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^V 3lin^c( Bepplitr 



AMERICANS AND OTHERS. 

A HAPPY HALF-CENTURY AND OTHER 
ESSAYS. 

IN OUR CONVENT DAYS 

COMPROMISES. 

THE FIRESIDE SPHINX. With 4 fuU-pag* 
and z7 text Illustrations by Miss £. Bonsall. 

BOOKS AND MEN. 

POINTS OF VIEW 

ESSAYS IN IDLENESS. 

IN THE DOZY HOURS, AND OTHER PA- 
PERS. 

ESSAYS IN MINIATURE. 

A BOOK OF FAMOUS VERSE. Selected 
by Agnes Repplier. In Riverside Library 
for Young People. 

THE SAME. Holiday Edition. 

VARIA. 

HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY 
Boston and Nbw York 



AMERICANS AND OTHERS 



AMERICANS 
AND OTHERS 

BY 

AGNES REPPLIER, Litt.D. 




BOSTON AND NEW YORK 

HOUGHTON MIFFLIN COMPANY 

n* itibttiibt fnttt CambriSst 



THE NEW YORK 

PUBLIC LIBRARY 

790581A 

ASTOR, LENOX AND 

TlLDhJN FOUNDATIONS 

H 1936 L 



COPYRIOBT, I913, BY AGNKS REPPLIBR 



ALL RIGHTS RKSBRVXD 



Puhlishtd October tgi2 






, - • . ► 

- • • •» 

^ •• • • 



• • - 

> « 



>•. 



• . • •. . •! ••• •• * 



••• 






; • • - • : 



« « • 

•» • ' ' ♦ 



Note 

Five of the essays in this volume appear in 
print for the first time. Others have been pub- 
lished in the Atlantu Monthly, the Century 
Magazine, Harper's Baaar, and the Catholic 
World. 



lO 



Contents 

A Question of Politeness i 

The Mission of Humour 29 

Goodness and Gayety 58 

The Nervous Strain 85 

The Girl Graduate 99 

The Estranging Sea 119 

Travellers' Tales 141 

The Chill of Enthusiasm 155 

The Temptation of Eve 1 73 
"The Greatest of These is Charity" 208 

The Customary Correspondent 219 

The Benefactor 237 

The Condescension of Borrowers 252 

The Grocer's Cat 273 



AMERICANS AND 
OTHERS 

A Question of Politeness 

**La politesse de Tesprit consiste k pei^er des 
choses honnetes et d^licates." 

A GREAT deal has been said and 
written during the past few years 
on the subject of American man- 
ners, and the consensus of opinion is, on 
the whole, unfavourable. We have been 
told, more in sorrow than in anger, that 
we are not a polite people; and our 
critics have cast about them for causes 
which may be held responsible for such 
a universal and lamentable result. Mr. 
Thomas Nelson Page, for example, is by 
way of thinking that the fault lies in the 
sudden expansion of wealth, in the in- 
trusion into the social world of people 
who fail to understand its requirements, 
and in the universal " spoiling" of Ameri- 

I 



Americans and Others 

can children. He contrasts the South of 
his childhood, that wonderful " South be- 
fore the war," which looms vaguely, but 
very grandly, through a half-century's 
haze, with the New York of to-day, 
which, alas I has nothing to soften its 
outlines. A more censorious critic in the 
" Atlantic Monthly " has also stated ex- 
plicitly that for true consideration and 
courtliness we must hark back to certain 
old gentlewomen of ante-bellum days. 
" None of us bom since the Civil War 
approach them in respect to some fine, 
nameless quality that gives them charm 
and atmosphere." It would seem, then, 
that the war, with its great emotions and 
its sustained heroism, imbued us with 
national life at the expense of our national 
manners. 

I wonder if this kind of criticism does 
not err by comparing the many with the 
few, the general with the exceptional. I 
wonder if the deficiencies of an imperfect 
civilization can be accounted for along 

2 



A Question of Politeness 

such obvious lines. The self-absorption 
of youth which Mrs. Comer deprecates, 
the self-absorption of a crowd which 
offends Mr. Page, are human, not Amer- 
ican. The nature of youth and the nature 
of crowds have not changed essentially 
since the Civil War, nor since the Punic 
Wars. Granted that the tired and hun- 
gry citizens of New York, jostling one 
another in their efforts to board a home- 
ward train, present an unlovely spectacle ; 
but do they, as Mr. Page affirms, reveal 
" such sheer and primal brutality as can 
be found nowhere else in the world 
where men and women are together?" 
Crowds will jostle, and have always jos- 
tled, since men first clustered in com- 
munities. Read Theocritus. The hurry- 
ing Syracusans — third century B.C. — 
" rushed like a herd of swine," and rent 
in twain Praxinoe's muslin veil. Look at 
Hogarth. The whole fun of an eight- 
eenth-century English crowd consisted 
in snatching off some unfortunate's wig, 



Americans and Others 

or toppling him over into the gutter. 
The truth is we sin against civilization 
when we consent to flatten ourselves 
against our neighbours. The experience 
of the world has shown conclusively that 
a few inches more or less of breathing 
space make all the difference between a 
self-respecting citizen and a savage. 

As for youth, — ah, who shall be brave 
enough, who has ever been brave enough, 
to defend the rising generation? Who 
has ever looked with content upon the 
young, save only Plato, and he lived in 
an age of symmetry and order which we 
can hardly hope to reproduce. The short- 
comings of youth are so pitilessly, so 
glaringly apparent. Not a rag to cover 
them from the discerning eye. And what 
a veil has fallen between us and the 
years of our offending. There is no illu- 
sion so permanent as that which enables 
us to look backward with complacency ; 
there is no mental process so deceptive 
as the comparing of recollections with 

4 



A Question of Politeness 

realities. How loud and shrill the voice 
of the giri at our elbow. How soft the 
voice which from the far past breathes 
its gende echo in our ears. How bounc- 
ing the vigorous young creatures who 
surround us, treading us under foot in 
the certainty of their self-assurance. How 
sweet and reasonable the pale shadows 
who smile — we think appealingly — 
from some dim comer of our memories. 
There is a passage in the diary of Louisa 
Gumey, a carefully reared little Quaker 
girl of good family and estate, which is 
dated 1 796, and which runs thus : — 

" I was in a very playing mood to-day, 
and thoroughly enjoyed being foolish, 
and tried to be as rude to everybody as 
I could. We went on the highroad for the 
purpose of being rude to the folks that 
passed. I do think being rude is most 
pleasant sometimes.'' 

Let us hope that the grown-up Louisa 
Gumey, whenever she felt disposed to 
cavil at the imperiections of the rising 

5 



Americans and Others 

generation of 1840 or 1850, re-read these 
illuminating words, and softened her 
judgment accordingly. 

New York has been called the most 
insolent dty in the world. To make or to 
refute such a statement implies so wide 
a knowledge of contrasted civilizations 
that to most of us the words have no 
significance. It is true that certain com- 
munities have earned for themselves in 
the course of centuries an unenviable re- 
putation for discourtesy. The Italians say 
" as rude as a Florentine " ; and even the 
casual tourist (presuming his standard of 
manners to have been set by Italy) is dis- 
posed to echo the reproach. The Roman, 
with the civilization of the world at his 
back, is naturally, one might say inevit- 
ably, polite. His is that serious and sim- 
ple dignity which befits his high inherit- 
ance. But the Venetian and the Sienese 
have also a grave courtesy of bearing, 
compared with which the manners of the 
Florentine seem needlessly abrupt We 

6 



A Question of Politeness 

can no more account for this than we can 
account for the chiu'lishness of the Vau- 
dois, who is alwajrs at some pains to be 
rude, and the gentleness of his neighbour, 
the Valaisan, to whom breeding is a birth- 
right, bom, it would seem, of generosity 
of heart, and a scorn of ignoble things. 

But such generalizations, at ail times 
perilous, become impossible in the chang- 
ing currents of American life, which has 
as yet no quality of permanence. The 
delicate old tests fail to adjust themselves 
to our needs. Mr. Page is right theoret- 
ically when he says that the treatment of 
a servant or of a subordinate is an infal- 
lible criterion of manners, and when he 
rebukes the "arrogance'* of wealthy 
women to " their hapless sisters of toil." 
But the truth is that our hapless sisters 
of toil have things pretty much their own 
way in a country which is still broadly 
prosperous and democratic, and our 
treatment of them is tempered by a self- 
ish consideration for our own comfort 

7 



Americans and Others 

and convenience. If they are toiling as 
domestic servants, — a field in which the 
demand exceeds the supply, — they 
hold the key to the situation ; it is sheer 
foolhardiness to be arrogant to a cook. 
Dressmakers and milliners are not hum- 
bly seeking for patronage ; theirs is the 
assured position of people who can give 
the world what the world asks ; and as 
for saleswomen, a class upon whom much 
sentimental sympathy is lavished year 
by year, their heart-whole supercilious- 
ness to the poor shopper, especially if 
she chance to be a housewife striving 
nervously to make a few dollars cover 
her family needs, is wantonly and detest- 
ably unkind. It is not with us as it was 
in the England of Lamb's day, and the 
quality of breeding is shown in a well- 
practised restraint rather than in a sweet 
and somewhat lofty consideration. 

Eliminating all the more obvious fea- 
tures of criticism, as throwing no light 
upon the subject, we come to the con- 

8 



A Question of Politeness 

sideration of three points, — the domestic, 
the official, and the social manners of a 
nation which has been roundly accused 
of degenerating from the high standard 
of former years, of those gracious and 
beautiful years which few of us have the 
good fortune to remember. On the first 
count, I believe that a candid and care- 
ful observation will result in a verdict of 
acquittal. Foreigners, Englishmen and 
Englishwomen especially, who visit our 
shores, are impressed with the politeness 
of Americans in their own households. 
That fine old Saxon point of view, " What 
is the good of a family, if one cannot be 
disagreeable in the bosom of it?" has 
been modified by the simple circumstance 
that the family bosom is no longer a fixed 
and permanent asylum. The disintegra- 
tion of the home may be a lamentable 
feature of modem life ; but since it has 
dawned upon our minds that adult mem- 
bers of a family need not necessarily live 
together if they prefer to live apart, the 

9 



Americans and Others 

strain of domesticity has been reduced 
to the limits of endurance. We have 
gained in serenity what we have lost in 
self-discipline by this easy achievement of 
an independence which, fifty years ago, 
would have been deemed pure licence. 
I can remember that, when I was a litde 
girl, two of our neighbours, a widowed 
mother and a widowed daughter, scan- 
dalized all their friends by living in two 
large comfortable houses, a stone's throw 
apart, instead of under one roof as be- 
came their relationship ; and the fact that 
they loved each other dearly and peace- 
fully in no way lessened their trans- 
gression. Had they shared their home, 
and bickered day and night, that would 
have been considered unfortunate but 
"natural." 

If the discipline of family life makes 
for law and order, for the subordination of 
parts to the whole, and for the prompt re- 
cognition of authority ; if, in other words, 
it makes, as in the days of Rome, for 

lO 



A Question of Politeness 

citizenship, the rescue of the individual 
makes for social intercourse, for that tem- 
perate and reasoned attitude which be- 
gets courtesy. The modem mother may 
lack influence and authority; but she 
speaks more urbanely to her children 
than her mother spoke to her. The mod- 
em child is seldom respectful, but he is 
often polite, with a politeness which owes 
nothing to intimidation. The harsh and 
wearisome habit of contradiction, which 
used to be esteemed a family privilege, 
has been softened to a judicious dissent. 
In my youth I knew several old gende- 
men who might, on their death-beds, have 
laid their hands upon their hearts, and 
have sworn that never in their whole lives 
had they permitted any statement, how- 
ever insignificant, to pass uncontradicted 
in their presence. They were authorita- 
tive old gentiemen, kind husbands after 
their fashion, and careful fathers ; but con- 
versation at their dinner-tables was not 
for human delight. 

II 



Americans and Others 

The manners of American officials 
have been discussed with more or less 
acrimony, and always from the stand- 
point of personal experience. The Cus- 
tom-House is the centre of attack, and 
critics for the most part agree that the 
men whose business it is to " hold up " re- 
turning citizens perform their ungracious 
task ungraciously. Theirs is rather the 
attitude of the detective dealing with sus- 
pected criminals than the attitude of the 
public servant impersonally obeying or- 
ders. It is true that even on the New 
York docks one may encounter civility 
and kindness. There are people who as- 
sure us that they have never encountered 
anything else ; but then there are people 
who would have us believe that always 
and under all circumstances they meet 
with the most distinguished considera- 
tion. They intimate that there is that in 
their own demeanour which makes rude- 
ness to them an impossibility. 

More candid souls find it hard to ac- 

12 



A Question of Politeness 

count for the crudity of our intercourse, 
not with officials only, but with the vast 
world which lies outside our narrow circle 
of associates. We have no human rela- 
tions where we have no social relations ; 
we are awkward and constrained in our 
recognition of the unfamiliar; and this 
awkwardness encumbers us in the ordin- 
ary routine of life. A policeman who has 
been long on one beat, and who has 
learned to know either the householders 
or the business men of his locality, is 
wont to be the most friendly of mortals. 
There is something almost pathetic in 
the value he places upon human rela- 
tionship, even of a very casual order. A 
conductor on a local train who has grown 
familiar with scores of passengers is no 
longer a ticket-punching, station-shout- 
ing automaton. He bears himself in 
friendly fashion towards all travellers, 
because he has established with some of 
them a rational foothold of communica- 
tion. But the official who sells tickets to 

13 



Americans and Others 

a hurrying crowd, or who snaps out a 
few tart words at a bureau of information, 
or who guards a gate through which men 
and women are pushing with senseless 
haste, is clad in an armour of incivility. 
He is wantonly rude to foreigners, whose 
helplessness should make some appeal 
to his humanity. I have seen a gate- 
keeper at Jersey City take by the shoul- 
ders a poor German, whose ticket called 
for another train, and shove him roughly 
out of the way, without a word of ex- 
planation. The man, too bewildered for 
resentment, rejoined his wife to whom he 
had said good-bye, and the two anxious, 
puzzled creatures stood whispering to- 
gether as the throng swept callously 
past them. It was a painful spectacle, a 
lapse from the well-ordered decencies 
of civilization. 

For to be civilized is to be incapable 
of giving unnecessary offence, it is to 
have some quality of consideration for all 
who cross our path. An Englishwoman 

14 



A Question of Politeness 

once said to Mr. Whistler that the polite- 
ness of the French was " all on the sur- 
face," to which the artist made reply : 
" And a very good place for it to be." It 
is this sweet surface politeness, costing 
so little, counting for so much, which 
smooths the roughness out of life. " The 
classic quality of the French nation," says 
Mr. Henry James, " is sociability ; a so- 
ciability which operates in France, as it 
never does in England, from below up- 
ward. Your waiter utters a greeting be- 
cause, after all, something human within 
him prompts him. His instinct bids him 
say something, and his taste recom- 
mends that it should be agreeable." 

This combination of instinct and taste 
— which happily is not confined to the 
French, nor to waiters — produces some 
admirable results, results out of all pro- 
portion to the sHghtness of the means 
employed. It often takes but a word, a 
gesture, to indicate the delicate process 
of adjustment. A few summers ago I was 

15 



Americans and Others 

drinking tea with friends in the gardens 
of the Hotel Faloria, at Cortina. At a 
table near us sat two Englishmen, three 
Englishwomen, and an Austrian, the wife 
of a Viennese councillor. They talked 
with animation and in engaging accents. 
After a little while they arose and strolled 
back to the hotel. The Englishmen, as 
they passed our table, stared hard at two 
young girls who were of our party, stared 
as deliberately and with as much freedom 
as if the children had been on a London 
music-hall stage. The Englishwomen 
passed us as though we had been invis- 
ible. They had so completely the air of 
seeing nothing in our chairs that I felt 
myself a phantom, a ghost like Banquo's, 
with no guilty eye to discern my pre- 
sence at the table. Lastly came the Aus- 
trian, who had paused to speak to a 
servant, and, as she passed, she gave us 
a fleeting smile and a slight bow, the 
mere shadow of a curtsey, acknowledg- 
ing our presence as human beings, to 

i6 



A Question of Politeness 

whom some measure of recognition was 
due. 

It was such a little thing, so lightly 
done, so eloquent of perfect self-posses- 
sion, and the impression it made upon six 
admiring Americans was a permanent 
one. We fell to asking ourselves — being 
honestly conscious of constraint — how 
each one of us would have behaved in the 
Austrian lady's place, whether or not that 
act of simple and sincere politeness would 
have been just as easy for us. Then I 
called to mind one summer morning in 
New England, when I sat on a friend's 
piazza, waiting idly for the arrival of the 
Sunday papers. A decent-looking man, 
with a pretty and over-dressed girl by 
his side, drove up the avenue, tossed the 
packet of papers at our feet, and drove 
away again. He had not said even a bare 
" Good morning." My kind and court- 
eous host had offered no word of greet- 
ing. The girl had turned her head to 
stare at me, but had not spoken. Struck 

17 



Americans and Others 

by the ungraciousness of the whole epi- 
sode, I asked, '' Is he a stranger in these 
parts?" 

"No/' said my friend. "He has 
brought the Sunday papers all summer. 
That is his daughter with him." 

All summer, and no human relations, 
not enough to prompt a friendly word, 
had been established between the man 
who served and the man who was served. 
None of the obvious criticisms passed 
upon American manners can explain the 
crudity of such a situation. It was cer- 
tainly not a case of arrogance towards a 
hapless brother of toil. My friend prob- 
ably toiled much harder than the paper- 
man, and was the least arrogant of mor- 
tals. Indeed, all arrogance of bearing lay 
conspicuously on the paperman's part. 
Why, after all, should not his instinct, like 
the instinct of the French waiter, have 
bidden him say something ; why should 
not his taste have recommended that 
the something be agreeable ? And then, 

i8 



A Question of Politeness 

again, why should not my friend, in 
whom social constraint was unpardon- 
able, have placed his finer instincts at the 
service of a fellow creature ? We must 
probe to the depths of our civilization 
before we can understand and deplore 
the limitations which make it difficult for 
us to approach one another with mental 
ease and security. We have yet to learn 
that the amenities of life stand for its 
responsibilities, and translate them into 
action. They express externally the fund- 
amental relations which ought to exist 
between men. " All the distinctions, so 
delicate and sometimes so complicated, 
which belong to good breeding," says 
M. Rondalet in " La Reforme Sociale," 
"answer to a profound unconscious 
analysis of the duties we owe to one 
another." 

There are people who balk at small 
civilities on account of their manifest 
insincerity. They cannot be brought to 
believe that the expressions of unfelt 

19 



Americans and Others 

pleasure or regret with which we accept 
or decline invitations, the little affection- 
ate phrases which begin and end our let- 
ters, the agreeable formalities which have 
accumulated around the simplest actions 
of life, are beneficent influences upon 
character, promoting gentleness of spirit. 
The Quakers, as we know, made a mighty 
stand against verbal insincerities, with 
one striking exception, — the use of the 
word " Friend." They said and believed 
that this word represented their attitude 
towards humanity, their spirit of uni- 
versal tolerance and brotherhood. But if 
to call oneself a "Friend" is to empha- 
size one's amicable relations towards 
one's neighbour, to call one's neighbour 
" Friend " is to imply that he returns this 
affectionate regard, which is often an 
unwarranted assumption. It is better and 
more logical to accept all the polite 
phraseology which facilitates intercourse, 
and contributes to the sweetness of life. 
If we discarded the formal falsehoods 

20 



A Question of Politene 



ss 



which are the currency of conversation, 
we should not be one step nearer the 
vital things of truth. 

For to be sincere with ourselves is bet- 
ter and harder than to be painstakingly 
accurate with others. A man may be 
cruelly candid to his associates, and a 
cowardly hypocrite to himself. He may 
handle his friend harshly, and himself 
with velvet gloves. He may never tell 
the fragment of a lie, and never think 
the whole truth. He may wound the 
pride and hurt the feelings of all with 
whom he comes in contact, and never 
give his own soul the benefit of one good 
knockdown blow. The connection which 
has been established between rudeness 
and probity on the one hand, and polite- 
ness and insincerity on the other, is based 
upon an imperfect knowledge of human 
nature. 

** So nigged was he that we thought him just, 
So churlish was he that we deemed him true.*' 

" It is better to hold back a truth," said 

21 



Americans and Others 

Saint Francis de Sales, ** than to speak 
it ungraciously." 

There are times doubtless when can- 
dour goes straight to its goal, and court- 
esy misses the mark. Mr. John Stuart 
Mill was once asked upon the hustings 
whether or not he had ever said that the 
English working-classes were mostly 
liars. He answered shordy, " I did 1 " — 
and the unexpected reply was greeted 
with loud applause. Mr. Mill was wont 
to quote this incident as proof of the 
value which Englishmen set upon plain 
speaking. They do prize it, and they 
prize the courage which defies their 
bullying. But then the remark was, after 
all, a generalization. We can bear hear- 
ing disagreeable truths spoken to a crowd 
or to a congregation — causticity has 
always been popular in preachers — be- 
cause there are other heads than our own 
upon which to fit the cap. 

The brutalities of candour, the pestil- 
ent wit which blights whatever it touches, 

22 



A Question of Politeness 

are not distinctively American. It is be- 
cause we are a humorous rather than a 
witty people that we laugh for the most 
part with, and not at, our fellow creatures. 
Indeed, judged by the unpleasant things 
we might say and do not say, we should 
be esteemed polite. English memoirs 
teem with anecdotes which appear to us 
unpardonable. Why should Lady Hol- 
land have been permitted to wound the 
susceptibilities of all with whom she came 
in contact ? When Moore tells us that she 
said to him, ** This book of yours " (the 
" Life of Sheridan ") ** will be dull, I fear ; " 
and to Lord Porchester, "I am sorry 
to hear you are going to publish a poem. 
Can't you suppress it ? " we do not find 
these remarks to be any more clever 
than considerate. They belong to the 
category of the monumentally uncouth. 
Why should Mr. Abraham Hayward 
have felt it his duty (he put it that 
way) to tell Mr. Frederick Locker that 
the " London Lyrics " were " overrated " ? 

23 



Americans and Others 

" I have suspected this," comments the 
poet, whose least noticeable character- 
istic was vanity ; " but I was none the 
less sorry to hear him say so." Landor's 
reply to a lady who accused him of speak- 
ing of her with unkindness, " Madame, I 
have wasted my life in defending you 1 " 
was pardonable as a repartee. It was the 
exasperated utterance of self-defence; 
and there is a distinction to be drawn 
between the word which is flung without 
provocation, and the word which is the 
speaker's last resource. When " Bobus " 
Smith told Talleyrand that his mother 
had been a beautiful woman, and Talley- 
rand replied, ^^C^ktait done Monsieur 
voire pire qui rlHait pas bien^^ we hold 
the witticism to have been cruel because 
unjustifiable. A man should be privileged 
to say his mother was beautiful, without 
inviting such a very obvious sarcasm. 
But when Madame de Stael pestered 
Talleyrand to say what he would do if he 
saw her and Madame Recamier drown- 

24 



A Question of Politeness 

ing, the immortal answer, ^^ Madame de 
Stael salt tant de choseSy que sans doute 
elle peut nager^^ seems as kind as the 
circumstances warranted. " Corinne's " 
vanity was of the hungry type, which, 
crying perpetually for bread, was often 
fed with stones. 

It has been well said that the differ- 
ence between a man's habitual rudeness 
and habitual politeness is probably as 
great a difference as he will ever be able 
to make in the sum of human happiness ; 
and the arithmetic of life consists in add- 
ing to, or subtracting from, the pleasur- 
able moments of mortality. Neither is it 
worth while to draw fine distinctions be- 
tween pleasure and happiness. If we are 
indifferent to the pleasures of our fellow 
creatures, it will not take us long to be 
indifferent to their happiness. We do not 
grow generous by ceasing to be consid- 
erate. 

* As a matter of fact, the perpetual sur- 
render which politeness dictates cuts 

25 



I 

Americans and Others 

down to a reasonable figure the sum to- 
tal of our selfishness. To listen when we 
are bored, to talk when we are listless, 
to stand when we are tired, to praise 
when we are indifferent, to accept the 
companionship of a stupid acquaintance 
when we might, at the expense of polite- 
ness, escape to a clever friend, to endure 
with smiling composure the near pre- 
sence of people who are distasteful to us, 
— these things, and many like them, 
brace the sinews of our souls. They set 
a fine and delicate standard for common 
intercourse. They discipline us for the 
good of the community. 

We cannot ring the bells backward, 
blot out the Civil War, and exchange 
the speed of modem life for the slumber- 
ous dignity of the Golden Age, — an 
age whose gilding brightens as we leave 
it shimmering in the distance. But even 
under conditions which have the disad- 
vantage of existing, the American is not 
without gentleness of speech and spirit 

26 



A Question of Politeness 

He is not always in a hurry. He is not 
always elbowing his way, or quivering 
with ill-bred impatience. Turn to him for 
help in a crowd, and feel the bright sure- 
ness of his response. Watch him under 
ordinary conditions, and observe his 
large measure of forbearance with the 
social deficiencies of his neighbour. Like 
Steele, he deems it humanity to laugh at 
an indifferent jest, and he has thereby 
earned for himself the reputation of 
being readily diverted. If he lacks the 
urbanities which embellish conversation, 
he is correspondingly free from the bru- 
talities which degrade it If his instinct 
does not prompt him to say something 
agreeable, it saves him from being wan- 
tonly unkind. Plain truths may be salu- 
tary; but unworthy truths are those 
which are destitute of any spiritual qual- 
ity, which are not noble in themselves, 
and which are not nobly spoken ; which 
may be trusted to offend, and which have 
never been known to illuminate. It is 

27 



Americans and Others 

not for such asperities that we have per- 
fected through the ages the priceless gift 
of language, that we seek to meet one 
another in the pleasant comradeship of 
life. 



The Mission of Humour 

** Laughter is my object : 'tis a property 
In man, essential to his reason." 
Thomas Randolph, The Muses* Looking^ Glass. 

A M ERIC AN humour is the pride of 
r^L American hearts. It is held to 
^ "^ be our splendid national char- 
acteristic, which we flaunt in the faces 
of other nations, conceiving them to have 
been less favoured by Providence. Just as 
the most effective way to disparage an 
author or an acquaintance — and we have 
often occasion to disparage both — is 
to say that he lacks a sense of humour, 
so the most effective criticism we can 
pass upon a nation is to deny it this valu- 
able quality. American critics have writ- 
ten the most charming things about the 
keenness of American speech, the breadth 
and insight of American drollery, the 
electric current in American veins ; and 

29 



Americans and Others 

we, reading these pleasant felicitations, 
are wont to thank God with greater fer- 
vour than the occasion demands that 
we are more merry and wise than our 
neighbours. Mr. Brander Matthews, for 
example, has told us that there are news- 
paper writers in New York who have 
cultivated a wit, "not unlike Voltaire's." 
He mistrusts this wit because he finds it 
" corroding and disintegrating " ; but he 
makes the comparison with that casual 
assurance which is a feature of American 
criticism. 

Indeed, our delight in our own humour 
has tempted us to overrate both its lit- 
erary value and its corrective qualities. 
We are never so apt to lose our sense of 
proportion as when we consider those 
beloved writers whom we hold to be 
humourists because they have made us 
laugh. It may be conceded that, as a 
people, we have an abiding and some- 
what disquieting sense of fun. We are 
nimble of speech, we are more prone to 

30 



The Mission of Humour 

levity than to seriousness, we are able 
to recognize a vital truth when it is pre- 
sented to us under the familiar aspect of 
a jest, and we habitually allow ourselves 
certain forms of exaggeration, accepting, 
perhaps unconsciously, Hazlitt's verdict : 
" Lying is a species of wit, and shows 
spirit and invention." It is true also that 
no adequate provision is made in this 
country for the defective but valuable 
class without humour, which in England 
is exceedingly well cared for. American 
letters, American journalism, and Ameri- 
can speech are so coloured by pleasant- 
ries, so accentuated by ridicule, that the 
silent and stodgy men, who are apt to 
represent a nation's real strength, hardly 
know where to turn for a little saving dul- 
ness. A deep vein of irony runs through 
every grade of society, making it possible 
for us to laugh at our own bitter discomfit- 
ure, and to scoff with startling distinct- 
ness at the evils which we passively per- 
mit. Just as the French monarchy under 

31 



Americans and Others 

Louis the Fourteenth was wittily defined 
as despotism tempered by epigram, so 
the United States have been described 
as a free republic fettered by jokes, and 
the taunt conveys a half-truth which it 
is worth our while to consider. 

Now there are many who affirm that the 
humourist's point of view is, on the whole, 
the fairest from which the world can be 
judged. It is equally remote from the 
misleading side-lights of the pessimist 
and from the wilful blindness of the opti- 
mist. It sees things with uncompromis- 
ing clearness, but it judges of them with 
tolerance and good temper. Moreover, 
a sense of the ridiculous is a sound pre- 
servative of social virtues. It places a 
proper emphasis on the judgments of our 
associates, it saves us from pitfalls of 
vanity and self-assurance, it lays the basis 
of that propriety and decorum of conduct 
upon which is founded the charm of in- 
tercourse among equals. And what it 
does for us individually, it does for us 

32 



The Mission of Humour 

collectively. Our national apprehension 
of a jest fosters whatever grace of mod- 
esty we have to show. We dare not in- 
flate ourselves as superbly as we should 
like to do, because our genial countrymen 
stand ever ready to prick us into sudden 
collapse. " It is the laugh we enjoy at 
our own expense which betrays us to the 
rest of the world." 

Perhaps we laugh too readily. Per- 
haps we are sometimes amused when we 
ought to be angry. Perhaps we jest when 
it is our plain duty to reform. Here lies 
the danger of our national light-minded- 
ness, — for it is seldom light-heartedness ; 
we are no whit more light-hearted than 
our neighbours. A carping English critic 
has declared that American humour con- 
sists in speaking of hideous things with 
levity ; and while so harsh a charge is 
necessarily unjust, it makes clear one 
abiding difference between the nations. 
An Englishman never laughs — except 
officially in " Punch " — over any form 

33 



Americans and Others 

of political degradation. He is not in the 
least amused by jobbery, by bad service, 
by broken pledges. The seamy side of 
civilized life is not to him a subject for 
sympathetic mirth. He can pity the stu- 
pidity which does not perceive that it is 
cheated and betrayed; but penetration 
allied to indifference awakens his won- 
dering contempt. " If you think it amus- 
ing to be imposed on," an Englishwoman 
once said to me, ** you need never be at a 
loss for a joke." 

In good truth, we know what a man 
is like by the things he finds laughable, we 
gauge both his understanding and his 
cultiu'e by his sense of the becoming and 
of the absurd. If the capacity for laughter 
be one of the things which separates men 
from brutes, the quality of laughter draws 
a sharp dividing-line between the trained 
intelligence and the vacant mind. The 
humour of a race interprets the char- 
acter of a race, and the mental condi- 
tion of which laughter is the expression 

34 



The Mission of Humour 

is something which it behooves the stu- 
dent of human nature and the student of 
national traits to understand very clearly. 
Now our American humour is, on the 
whole, good-tempered and decent. It is 
scandalously irreverent (reverence is a 
quality which seems to have been left out 
of our composition); but it has neither 
the pitilessness of the Latin, nor the gross- 
ness of the Teuton jest. As Mr. Gilbert 
said of Sir Beerbohm Tree's " Hamlet," it 
is funny without being coarse. We have 
at our best the art of being amusing in 
an agreeable, almost an amiable, fashion ; 
but then we have also the rare good for- 
tune to be very easily amused. Think of 
the current jokes provided for our enter- 
tainment week by week, and day by day. 
Think of the comic supplement of our 
Sunday newspapers, designed for the 
refreshment of the feeble-minded, and 
calculated to blight the spirits of any 
ordinarily intelligent household. Think 
of the debilitated jests and stories which 

35 



Americans and Others 

a time-honoured custom inserts at the 
back of some of our magazines. It seems 
to be the custom of happy American 
parents to report to editors the infantile 
prattle of their engaging little children, 
and the editors print it for the benefit 
of those who escape the infliction first- 
hand. There is a story, pleasant but pite- 
ous, of Voltaire's listening with what pa- 
tience he could muster to a comedy which 
was being interpreted by its author. At 
a certain point the dramatist read, "At 
this the Chevalier laughed " ; whereupon 
Voltaire murmured enviously, " How for- 
tunate the Chevalier wasl" I think of 
that story whenever I am struck afresh 
by the ease with which we are moved to 
mirth. 

A painstaking German student, who has 
traced the history of humour back to its 
earliest foundations, is of the opinion 
that there are eleven original jokes known 
to the world, or rather that there are 
eleven original and basic situations which 

36 



The Mission of Humour 

have given birth to the world's jokes; 
and that all the pleasantries with which 
we are daily entertained are variations of 
these eleven originals, traceable directly 
or indirectly to the same sources. There 
are times when we are disposed to think 
eleven too generous a computation, and 
there are less weary moments in which 
the inexhaustible supply of situations 
still suggests fresh possibilities of laugh- 
ter. Granted that the ever fertile mother- 
in-law jest and the one about the talkative 
barber were venerable in the days of 
Plutarch ; there are others more securely 
and more deservedly rooted in public 
esteem which are, by comparison, new. 
Christianity, for example, must be held 
responsible for the missionary and can- 
nibal joke, of which we have grown weary 
unto death ; but which nevertheless pos- 
sesses astonishing vitality, and exhibits 
remarkable breadth of treatment. Sydney 
Smith did not disdain to honour it with 
a joyous and unclerical quatrain; and 

37 



Americans and Others 

the agreeable author of "Rab and his 
Friends" has told us the story of his fra- 
gile little schoolmate whose mother had 
destined him for a missionary, ** though 
goodness knows there wasn't enough 
of him to go around among many 
heathen." 

To Christianity is due also the some- 
what ribald mirth which has clung for 
centuries about Saint Peter as gate- 
keeper of Heaven. We can trace this 
mirth back to the rude jests of the earli- 
est miracle plays. We see these jests 
repeated over and over again in the 
folklore of Latin and Germanic nations. 
And if we open a comic journal to-day, 
there is more than a chance that we shall 
find Saint Peter, key in hand, uttering 
his time-honoured witticisms. This well- 
worn situation depends, as a rule, upon 
that common element of fun-making, 
the incongruous. Saint Peter invaded 
by air-ships. Saint Peter outwitting a 
squad of banner-flying suflragettes. Saint 

38 



The Mission of Humour 

Peter losing his saintly temper over the 
expansive philanthropy of millionaires. 
Now and then a bit of true satire, like 
Mr. Kipling^s " Tomlinson/' conveys its 
deeper lesson to humanity. A recently 
told French story describes a lady of good 
reputation, family, and estate, presenting 
herself fearlessly at the gates of Heaven. 
Saint Peter receives her politely, and 
leads her through a street filled with 
lofty and beautiful mansions, any one of 
which she thinks will satisfy her require- 
ments ; but, to her amazement, they pass 
them by. Next they come to more modest 
but still charming houses with which she 
feels she could be reasonably content; 
but again they pass them by. Finally 
they reach a small and mean dwelling in 
a small and mean thoroughfare. ** This," 
says Saint Peter, "is your habitation." 
"Thisl" cries the indignant lady; "I 
could not possibly live in any place so 
shabby and inadequate." **I am sorry, 
madame," replies the saint urbanely; 

39 



Americans and Others 

" but we have done the best we could 
with the materials you furnished us." 

There are no bounds to the loyalty 
with which mankind clings to a well- 
established jest, there is no limit to the 
number of times a tale will bear retell- 
ing. Occasionally we give it a fresh set- 
ting, adorn it with fresh accessories, and 
present it as new-born to the world; 
but this is only another indication of our 
affectionate tenacity. I have heard that 
caustic gibe of Queen Elizabeth's anent 
the bishop's lady and the bishop's wife 
(the Tudors had a biting wit of their own) 
retold at the expense of an excellent 
lady, the wife of a living American 
bishop ; and the story of the girl who, 
professing religion, gave her ear-rings 
to a sister, because she knew they were 
taking her to Hell, — a story which dates 
from the early Wesleyan revivals in 
England, — I have heard located in 
Philadelphia, and assigned to one of Mr. 
Torrey's evangelistic services. We still 

40 



The Mission of Humour 

resort, as in the days of Sheridan, to our 
memories for our jokes, and to our imag* 
inations for our facts. 

Moreover, we Americans have jests 
of our own, — poor things for the most 
part, but our own. They are current 
from the Atlantic to the Pacific, they ap- 
pear with commendable regularity in our 
newspapers and comic journals, and they 
have become endeared to us by a lifetime 
of intimacy. The salient characteristics 
of our great cities, the accepted tradi- 
tions of our mining-camps, the contrast 
between East and West, the still more 
familiar contrast between the torpor of 
Philadelphia and Brooklyn ("In the 
midst of life," says Mr. Oliver Herford, 
•'we are — in Brooklyn") and the un- 
easy speed of New York, — these things 
furnish abundant material for everyday 
American humour. There is, for exam- 
ple, the encounter between the Boston 
girl and the Chicago girl, who, in real 
life, might often be taken for each other; 

41 



Americans and Others 

but who, in the American joke, are as 
sharply differentiated as the Esquimo 
and the Hottentot. And there is the lit- 
tle Boston boy who always wears spec- 
tacles, who is always named Waldo, 
and who makes some innocent remark 
about "Literary Ethics," or the "Con- 
duct of Life." We have known this little 
boy too long to bear a parting from him. 
Indeed, the mere suggestion that all Bos- 
tonians are forever immersed in Emer- 
son is one which gives unfailing delight 
to the receptive American mind. It is a 
poor community which cannot furnish 
its archaic jest for the diversion of its 
neighbours. 

The finest example of our bulldog 
resoluteness in holding on to a comic 
situation, or what we conceive to be a 
comic situation, may be seen every year 
when the twenty-second of February 
draws near, and the shops of our great 
and grateful Republic break out into an 
irruption of little hatchets, by which 

42 



The Mission of Humour 

curious insignia we have chosen to 
commemorate our first President. These 
toys, occasionally combined with sprigs 
of artificial cherries, are hailed with un- 
flagging delight, and purchased with 
what appears to be patriotic fervour. I 
have seen letter-carriers and post-office 
clerks wearing little hatchets in their 
button-holes, as though they were party 
buttons, or temperance badges. It is our 
great national joke, which I presume 
gains point from the dignified and reti- 
cent character of General Washington, 
and from the fact that he would have 
been sincerely unhappy could he have 
foreseen the senile character of a jest, 
destined, through our love of absurdity, 
our careful cultivation of the inappro- 
priate, to be linked forever with his 
name. 

The easy exaggeration which is a dis- 
tinctive feature of American humour, and 
about which so much has been said 
and written, has its counterpart in sober 

43 



Americans and Others 

and truth-telling England, though we are 
always amazed when we find it there, and 
fall to wondering, as we never wonder 
at home, in what spirit it was received. 
There are two kinds of exaggeration; 
exaggeration of statement, which is a 
somewhat primitive form of humoiw, and 
exaggeration of phrase, which implies a 
dexterous misuse of language^ a skilful 
juggling with words. Sir John Robinson 
gives, as an admirable instance of exag^ 
geration of statement, the remark of an 
American in London that his dining- 
room ceiling was so low that he could 
not have an3^hing for dinner but soles. 
Sir John thought this could have been 
said only by an American, only by one 
accustomed to have a joke swiftly cata- 
logued as a joke, and suffered to pass. 
An English jester must always take into 
account the mental attitude which finds 
" Gulliver's Travels" " incredible." When 
Mr. Edward FitzGerald said that the 
church at Woodbridge was so damp that 

44 



The Mission of Humour 

fungi grew about the communion rail, 
Woodbridge ladies offered an indignant 
denial. When Dr. Thompson, the witty 
master of Trinity, observed of an under- 
graduate that ''all the time he could 
spare from the neglect of his duties he 
gave to the adornment of his person," 
the sarcasm made its slow way into 
print; whereupon an intelligent British 
reader wrote to the periodical which had 
printed it, and explained painstakingly 
that, inasmuch as it was not possible to 
spare time from the neglect of anything, 
the criticism was inaccurate. 

^xsiggersXion of phrase, as well as the 
studied understatement which is an even 
more effective form of ridicule, seem natu- 
ral products of American humour. They 
sound, wherever we hear them, familiar 
to our ears. It is hard to believe that an 
English barrister, and not a Texas ranch- 
man, described Boston as a town where 
respectability stalked unchecked. Maza- 
rin's plaintive reflection, " Nothing is so 

45 



Americans and Others 

disagreeable as to be obscurely hanged," 
carries with it an echo of Wyoming or 
Arizona. Mr. Gilbert's analysis of Ham- 
let's mental disorder, — 

*■*■ Hamlet is idiotically sane, 
With lucid intervals of lunacy," — 

has the pure flavour of American wit, — 
a wit which finds its most audacious 
expression in burlesquing bitter things, 
and which misfits its words with diabolic 
ingenuity. To match these alien jests, 
which sound so like our own, we have 
the whispered warning of an American 
usher (also quoted by Sir John Robinson) 
who opened the door to a late comer at 
one of Mr. Matthew Arnold's lectures : 
"Will you please make as little noise as 
you can, sir. The audience is asleep " ; 
and the comprehensive remark of a New 
England scholar and wit that he never 
wanted to do anything in his life, that he 
did not find it was expensive, unwhole- 
some, or immoral. This last observation 
embraces the wisdom of the centuries. 

46 



The Mission of Humour 

Solomon would have endorsed it, and it 
is supremely quotable as expressing s^ 
common experience with very uncom- 
mon felicity. 

When we leave the open field of ex- 
aggeration, that broad area which is our 
chosen territory, and seek for subtler 
qualities in American humour, we find 
here and there a witticism which, while 
admittedly our own, has in it an Old- 
World quality. The epigrammatic re- 
mark of a Boston woman that men get 
and forget, and women give and forgive, 
shows the fine, sharp finish of Sydney 
Smith or Sheridan. A Philadelphia wo- 
man's observation, that she knew there 
could be no marriages in Heaven, be- 
cause — "Well, women were there no 
doubt in plenty, and some men ; but not 
a man whom any woman would have," 
is strikingly French. The word of a New 
York broker, when Mr. Roosevelt sailed 
for Africa, "Wall Street expects every 
lion to do its duty ! " equals in brevity 

47 



Americans and Others 

and malice the keen-edged satire of Italy. 
No sharper thrust was ever made at 
prince or potentate. 

The truth is that our love of a jest 
knows no limit and respects no law. 
The incongruities of an unequal civili- 
zation (we live in the land of contrasts) 
have accustomed us to absurdities, and 
reconciled us to ridicule. We rather like 
being satirized by our own countrymen. 
We are very kind and a little cruel to 
our humourists. We crown them with 
praise, we hold them to our hearts, we 
pay them any price they ask for their 
wares; but we insist upon their being 
funny all the time. Once a humourist, 
always a humourist, is our way of think- 
ing ; and we resent even a saving lapse 
into seriousness on the part of those who 
have had the good or the ill fortune to 
make us laugh. 

England is equally obdurate in this 
regard. Her love of laughter has been 
consecrated by Oxford, — Oxford, the 

48 



The Mission of Humour 

dignified refuge of English scholarship^ 
which passed by a score of American 
scholars to bestow her honours on our 
great American joker. And because of 
this love of laughter, so desperate in 
a serious nation, English jesters have 
enjoyed the uneasy privileges of a 
court fool. Look at poor Hood. What 
he really loved was to wallow in the pa- 
thetic, — to write such harrowing verses 
as the " Bridge of Sighs/' and the " Song 
of the Shirt" (which achieved the rare 
distinction of being printed — like the 
" Beggar's Petition " — on cotton hand- 
kerchiefs), and the " Lady's Dream." 
Every time he broke from his traces, he 
plunged into these morasses of melan- 
choly; but he was always pulled out 
again, and rehamessed to his jokes. He 
would have liked to be funny occasion- 
ally and spontaneously, and it was the 
will of his master, the public, that he 
should be funny all the time, or starve. 
Lord Chesterfield wisely said that a man 

49 



Americans and Others 

should live within his wit as well as within 
his income ; but if Hood had lived within 
his wit — which might then have pos- 
sessed a vital and lasting quality — he 
would have had no income. His r61e in 
life was like that of a dancing bear, which 
is held to commit a solecism every time 
it settles wearily down on the four legs 
nature gave it. 

The same tyrannous demand hounded 
Mr. Eugene Field along his joke-strewn 
path. Chicago, struggling with vast and 
difficult problems, felt the need of laugh- 
ter, and required of Mr. Field that he 
should make her laugh. He accepted 
the responsibility, and, as a reward, his 
memory is hallowed in the city he loved 
and derided. New York echoes this sen- 
timent (New York echoes more than she 
proclaims ; she confirms rather than ini- 
tiates); and when Mr. Francis Wilson 
wrote some years ago a charming and 
enthusiastic paper for the " Century Mag- 
azine,'' he claimed that Mr. Field was so 

50 



The Mission of Humour 

great a humourist as to be — what all 
great humourists are, — a moralist as well. 
But he had little to quote which could 
be received as evidence in a court of 
criticism; and many of the paragraphs 
which he deemed it worth while to re- 
print were melancholy instances of that 
jaded wit, that exhausted vitality, which 
in no wise represented Mr. Field's mirth- 
loving spirit, but only the things which 
were ground out of him when he was not 
in a mirthful mood. 

The truth is that humour as a lucrative 
profession is a purely modem device, 
and one which is much to be deplored. 
The older humourists knew the value of 
light and shade. Their fun was precious 
in proportion to its parsimony. The es- 
sence of humour is that it should be unex- 
pected, that it should embody an element 
of surprise, that it should startle us out 
of that reasonable gravity which, after 
all, must be our habitual frame of mind. 
But the professional humourist cannot 

51 



Americans and Others 

afford to be unexpected. The exigencies 
of his vocation compel him to be relent- 
lessly droll from his first page to his last, 
and this accumulated drollery weighs 
like lead. Compared to it, sermons are 
as thistle-down, and political economy 
is gay. 

It is hard to estimate the value of 
humour as a national trait Life has its 
appropriate levities, its comedy side. We 
cannot "see it clearly and see it whole,'* 
without recognizing a great many ab- 
surdities which ought to be laughed at, 
a great deal of nonsense which is a fair 
target for ridicule. The heaviest charge 
brought against American humour is 
that it never keeps its target well in view. 
We laugh, but we are not purged by 
laughter of our follies ; we jest, but our 
jests are apt to have a kitten's sportive 
irresponsibility. The lawyer offers a 
witticism in place of an argument, the 
diner-out tells an amusing story in lieu of 
conversation. Even the clergyman does 

52 



The Mission of Humour 

not disdain a joke, heedless of Dr. John- 
son's warning which should save him 
from that pitfall. Smartness furnishes 
sufficient excuse for the impertinence of 
children, and with purposeless satire the 
daily papers deride the highest digni- 
taries of the land. 

Yet while always to be reckoned with 
in life and letters, American humour is 
not a powerful and consistent factor either 
for destruction or for reform. It lacks, for 
the most part, a logical basis, and the 
dignity of a supreme aim. Moli^re's hu- 
mour amounted to a philosophy of life. 
He was wont to say that it was a difficult 
task to make gentlefolk laugh ; but he 
succeeded in making them laugh at 
that which was laughable in themselves. 
He aimed his shafts at the fallacies and 
the duplicities which his countrymen 
ardently cherished, and he scorned the 
cheaper wit which contents itself with 
mocking at idols already discredited. As 
a result, he purged society, not of the 

53 



Americans and Others 

follies that consumed it, but of the illu- 
sion that these follies were noble, grace- 
ful, and wise. " We do not plough or 
sow for fools," says a Russian proverb, 
" they grow of themselves " ; but humour 
has accomplished a mighty work if it 
helps us to see that a fool is a fool, and 
not a prophet in the market-place. And 
if the man in the market-place chances 
to be a prophet, his message is safe from 
assault. No laughter can silence him, no 
ridicule weaken his words. 

Carlyle's grim humour was also drilled 
into efficacy. He used it in orderly fash- 
ion ; he gave it force by a stem principle 
of repression. He had (what wise man 
has not ?) an honest respect for dulness, 
knowing that a strong and free people 
argues best — as Mr. Bagehot puts it 
— " in platoons." He had some meas- 
ure of mercy for folly. But against the 
whole complicated business of pretence, 
against the pious, and respectable, and 
patriotic hypocrisies of a successful civ- 

54 



The Mission of Humour 

ilization, he hurled his taunts with such 
true aim that it is not too much to say 
there has been less real comfort and 
safety in lying ever since. 

These are victories worth recording, 
and there is a big battlefield for Ameri- 
can humour when it finds itself ready for 
the fray, when it leaves off firing squibs, 
and setties down to a compelling can- 
nonade, when it aims less at the super- 
ficial incongruities of life, and more at 
the deep-rooted delusions which rob us 
of fair fame. It has done its best work 
in the field of political satire, where the 
" Biglow Papers " hit hard in their day, 
where Nast's cartoons helped to over- 
throw the Tweed dynasty, and where the 
indolent and luminous genius of Mr. 
Dooley has widened our mental horizon. 
Mr. Dooley is a philosopher, but his is the 
philosophy of the looker-on, of that genu- 
ine unconcern which finds Saint George 
and the dragon to be both a trifle ridic- 
ulous. He is always undisturbed, always 

55 



Americans and Others 

illuminating, and not infrequently amus- 
ing ; but he anticipates the smiling in- 
difference with which those who come 
after us will look back upon our enthu- 
siasms and absurdities. Humour, as he 
sees it, is that thrice blessed quality which 
enables us to laugh, when otherwise we 
should be in danger of weeping. " We 
are ridiculous animals," observes Horace 
Walpole unsympathetically, ** and if an- 
gels have any fun in their hearts, how 
we must divert them." 

It is this clear-sighted, non-combative 
humour which Americans love and prize, 
and the absence of which they reckon 
a heavy loss. Nor do they always ask, 
" a loss to whom ? " Charles Lamb said 
it was no misfortune for a man to have 
a sulky temper. It was his friends who 
were unfortunate. And so with the man 
who has no sense of humour. He gets 
along very well without it. He is not 
aware that anjrthing is lacking. He is 
not mourning his lot. What loss there is, 

56 



The Mission of Humour 

his friends and neighbours bear. A man 
destitute of humour is apt to be a for- 
midable person, not subject to sudden 
deviations from his chosen path, and in- 
capable of frittering away his elementary 
forces by pottering over both sides of a 
question. He is often to be respected, 
sometimes to be feared, and always — 
if possible — to be avoided. His are the 
qualities which distance enables us to 
recognize and value at their worth. He 
fills his place in the scheme of creation ; 
but it is for us to see that his place is not 
next to ours at table, where his unre- 
sponsiveness narrows the conversational 
area, and dulls the contagious ardour 
of speech. He may add to the wisdom of 
the ages, but he lessens the gayety 
of life. 



Goodness and Gayety 

•* Can surly Virtue hope to find a friend ?" — Dr. 
Johnson. 

SIR LESLIE STEPHEN has re- 
corded his conviction that a sense 
of humour, being irreconcilable 
with some of the cardinal virtues, is lack- 
ing in most good men. Father Faber as- 
serted, on the contrary, that a sense of 
humour is a great help in the religious 
life, and emphasized this somewhat un- 
usual point of view with the decisive 
statement: "Perhaps nature does not 
contribute a greater help to grace than 
this." 

Here are conflicting verdicts to be well 
considered. Sir Leslie Stephen knew 
more about humour than did Father 
Faber ; Father Faber knew more about 
" grace " than did Sir Leslie Stephen ; and 
both disputants were widely acquainted 

58 



Goodness and Gayety 

with their fellow men. Sir Leslie Stephen 
had a pretty wit of his own, but it may 
have lacked the qualities which make 
for holiness. There was in it the element 
of denial. He seldom entered the shrine 
where we worship our ideals in secret. 
He stood outside, remarks Mr. Birrell 
cheerily, "with a pail of cold water." 
Father Faber also possessed a vein of 
irony which was the outcome of a priestly 
experience with the cherished foibles of 
the world. He entered unbidden into the 
shrine where we worship our illusions in 
secret, and chilled us with unwelcome 
truths. I know of no harder experience 
than this. It takes time and trouble to 
persuade ourselves that the things we 
want to do are the things we ought to do. 
We balance our spiritual accounts with 
care. We insert glib phrases about duty 
into all our reckonings. There is nothing, 
or next to nothing, which cannot, if 
adroitly catalogued, be considered a 
duty ; and it is this delicate mental ad- 

59 



Americans and Others 

justment which is disturbed by Father 
Faber's ridicule. " Self-deceit," he caus- 
tically observes, "seems to thrive on 
prayer, and to grow fat on contempla- 
tion." 

If a sense of humour forces us to be 
candid with ourselves, then it can be re- 
conciled, not only with the cardinal vir- 
tues — which are but a chilly quartette 

— but with the flaming charities which 
have consumed the souls of saints. The 
true humourist, objects Sir Leslie Ste- 
phen, sees the world as a tragi-comedy, 
a Vanity Fair, in which enthusiasm is 
out of place. But if the true humourist 
also sees himself presiding, in the sacred 
name of duty, over a booth in Vanity 
Fair, he may yet reach perfection. What 
Father Faber opposed so strenuously 
were, not the vanities of the profane, of 
the openly and cheerfully unregenerate ; 
but the vanities of a devout and fashion- 
able congregation, making especial terms 

— by virtue of its exalted station — with 

60 



Goodness and Gayety 

Providence. These were the people whom 
he regarded all his priestiy life with 
whimsical dismay. " Their voluntary so- 
cial arrangements," he wrote in " Spirit- 
ual Conferences/' "are the t3rranny of 
circumstance, claiming our tenderest 
pity, and to be managed like the work 
of a Xavier, or a Vincent of Paul, which 
hardly left the saints time to pray. Their 
sheer worldliness is to be considered as 
an interior trial, with all manner of cloudy 
grand things to be said about it They 
must avoid uneasiness, for such great 
graces as theirs can grow only in calm- 
ness and tranquillity." 

This is irony rather than humour, but 
it implies a capacity to see the tragi- 
comedy of the world, without necessarily 
losing the power of enthusiasm. It also 
explains why Father Faber regarded an 
honest sense of the ridiculous as a help 
to goodness. The man or woman who is 
impervious to the absurd cannot well be 
stripped of self-delusion. For him, for 

6i 



Americans and Others 

her, there is no shaft which wounds. The 
admirable advice of Thomas k Kempis 
to keep away from people whom we de- 
sire to please, and the quiet perfection of 
his warning to the censorious, "In judg- 
ing others, a man toileth in vain ; for the 
most part he is mistaken, and he easily 
sinneth ; but in judging and scrutinizing 
himself, he always laboureth with profit," 
can make their just appeal only to the 
humorous sense. So, too, the counsel of 
Saint Francis de Sales to the nuns who 
wanted to go barefooted, "Keep your 
shoes and change your brains " ; the cau- 
tious query of Pope Gregory the First, 
concerning John the Faster, " Does he 
abstain even from the truth ? " Cardinal 
Newman's axiom, " It is never worth 
while to call whity-brown white, for the 
sake of avoiding scandal " ; and Father 
Faber's own felicitous comment on reli- 
gious "hedgers," "A moderation which 
consists in taking immoderate liberties 
with God is hardly what the Fathers of 

62 



Goodness and Gayety 

the Desert meant when they preached 
their crusade in favour of discretion " ; 
— are all spoken to those hardy and 
humorous souls who can bear to be 
honest with themselves. 

The ardent reformer, intolerant of the 
ordinary processes of life, the ardent 
philanthropist, intolerant of an imperfect 
civilization, the ardent zealot, intolerant 
of man's unspiritual nature, are seldom 
disposed to gayety. A noble impatience 
of spirit inclines them to anger or to 
sadness. John Wesley, reformer, philan- 
thropist, zealot, and surpassingly great 
in all three characters, strangled within 
his own breast the simple desire to be 
gay. He was a young man when he 
formed the resolution, "to labour after 
continual seriousness, not willingly in- 
dulging myself in the least levity of be- 
haviour, or in laughter, — no, not for a 
moment " ; and for more than fifty years 
he kept— probably with no great diffi- 
culty — this stern resolve. The mediaeval 

63 



Americans and Others 

saying, that laughter has sin for a father 
and folly for a mother, would have meant 
to Wesley more than a figure of speech. 
Nothing could rob him of a dry and bit- 
ter humour (" They won't let me go to 
Bedlam," he wrote, " because they say I 
make the inmates mad, nor into New- 
gate, because I make them wicked"); 
but there was little in his creed or in the 
scenes of his labours to promote cheer- 
fulness of spirit 

This disciplining of nature, honest, err- 
ing human nature, which could, if per- 
mitted, make out a fair case for itself, 
is not an essential element of the evan- 
gelist's code. In the hands of men less 
great than Wesley, it has been known to 
nullify the work of a lifetime. The Lin- 
colnshire farmer who, after listening to a 
sermon on Hell, said to his wife, " Noa, 
Sally, it woant do. Noa constitootion 
could stand it," expressed in his own 
fashion the healthy limit of endurance. 
Our spiritual constitutions break under 

64 



Goodness and Gayety 

a pitiless strain. When we read in the 
diary of Henry Alline, quoted by Dr. 
William James in his " Varieties of Reli- 
gious Experience," " On Wednesday the 
twelfth I preached at a wedding, and had 
the happiness thereby to be the means 
of excluding carnal mirth," we are not 
merely sorry for the wedding guests, but 
beset by doubts as to their moral gain. 

Why should Henry Martyn, that fer- 
vent young missionary who gave his life 
for his cause with the straight-forward 
simplicity of a soldier, have regretted 
so bitterly an occasional lapse into good 
spirits ? He was inhumanly serious, and 
he prayed by night and day to be saved 
from his " besetting sin " of levity. He 
was consumed by the flame of relig- 
ious zeal, and he bewailed at grievous 
length, in his diary, his " light, worldly 
spirit." He toiled unrestingly, taking 
no heed of his own physical weakness, 
and he asked himself (when he had 
a minute to spare) what would become 

65 



Americans and Others 

of his soul, should he be struck dead in 
a "careless mood." We have Mr. Bir- 
relFs word for it that once, in an old 
book about India, he came across an 
after-dinner jest of Henry Martyn's ; but 
the idea was so incongruous that the 
startled essayist was disposed to doubt 
the evidence of his senses. " There must 
have been a mistake somewhere." 

To such a man the world is not, and 
never can be, a tragi-comedy, and laugh- 
ter seems forever out of place. When a 
Madeira negress, a good Christian after 
her benighted fashion, asked Martyn if 
the English were ever baptized, he did 
not think the innocent question funny, 
he thought it horrible. He found Saint 
Basil's writings unsatisfactory, as lack- 
ing "evangelical truth"; and, could he 
have heard this great doctor of the 
Church fling back a witticism in the 
court of an angry magistrate, he would 
probably have felt more doubtful than 
ever concerning the status of the early 

66 



/O 



Goodness and Gayety 

Fathers. It is a relief to turn from the let- 
ters of Martyn, with their aloofness from 
the cheerful currents of earth, to the let- 
ters of Bishop Heber, who, albeit a mis- 
sionary and a keen one, had always a 
laugh for the absurdities which beset his 
wandering life. He could even tell with 
relish the story of the drunken pedlar 
whom he met in Wales, and who con- 
fided to him that, having sold all his 
wares, he was trying to drink up the 
proceeds before he got home, lest his 
wife should take the money away from 
him. Heber, using the argument which 
he felt would be of most avail, tried to 
frighten the man into soberness by pic- 
turing his wife's wrath ; whereupon the 
adroit scamp replied that he knew what 
that would be, and had taken the pre- 
caution to have his hair cut short, so that 
she could not get a grip on it. Martyn 
could no more have chuckled over this 
depravity than he could have chuckled 
over the fallen angels ; but Saint Teresa 

67 



Americans and Others 

could have laughed outright, her won- 
derful, merry, infectious laugh ; and have 
then proceeded to plead, to scold, to 
threaten, to persuade, until a chastened 
and repentant pedlar, money in hand, 
and some dim promptings to goodness 
tugging at his heart, would have tramped 
bravely and soberly home. 

It is so much the custom to obliterate 
from religious memoirs all vigorous hu- 
man traits, all incidents which do not 
tend to edification, and all contemporary 
criticism which cannot be smoothed into 
praise, that what is left seems to the dis- 
heartened reader only a pale shadow of 
life. It is hard to make any biography 
illustrate a theme, or prove an argument ; 
and the process by which such results 
are obtained is so artificial as to be open 
to the charge of untruth. Because Gen- 
eral Havelock was a good Baptist as 
well as a good soldier, because he ex- 
pressed a belief in the efficacy of prayer 
(like Cromwell's "Trust in God, and keep 

68 



Goodness and Gayety 

your powder dry "), and because he wrote 
to his wife, when sent to the relief of 
Lucknow, " May God give me wisdom 
and strength for the work!" — which, 
after all, was a natural enough thing for 
any man to say, — he was made the 
subject of a memoir determinedly and 
depressingly devout, in which his fam- 
ily letters were annotated as though 
they were the episties of Saint Paul. Yet 
this was the man who, when Lucknow 
was relieved, behaved as if nothing out 
of the ordinary had happened to be- 
siegers or besieged. "He shook hands 
with me," wrote Lady Inglis in her jour- 
nal, "and observed that he feared we 
had suffered a great deal." That was 
all. He might have said as much had the 
littie garrison been incommoded by a 
spell of unusual heat, or by an epidemic 
of measles. 

As a matter of fact, piety is a by no 
means uncommon attribute of soldiers, 
and there was no need on the part of 

69 



Americans and Others 

the Reverend Mr. Brock, who compiled 
these shadowy pages, to write as though 
General Havelock had been a rare spec- 
ies of the genius military. We know that 
what the English Puritans especially re- 
sented in Prince Rupert was his insist- 
ence on regimental prayers. They could 
pardon his raids, his breathless charges, 
his bewildering habit of appearing where 
he was least expected or desired; but 
that he should usurp their own especial 
prerogative of piety was more than they 
could bear. It is probable that Rupert's 
own private petitions resembled the mem- 
orable prayer offered by Sir Jacob Ast- 
ley (a hardy old Cavalier who was both 
devout and humorous) before the battle 
of Edgehill : " Oh, Lord, Thou knowest 
how busy I must be this day. If I forget 
Thee, do not Thou forget me. March on, 
boys I " 

If it were not for a few illuminating 
anecdotes, and the thrice blessed custom 
of letter writing, we should never know 

70 



Goodness and Gayety 

what manner of thing human goodness, 
exalted human goodness, is ; and so ac- 
quiesce ignorantly in Sir Leslie Stephen's 
judgment. The sinners of the world stand 
out clear and distinct, full of vitality, and 
of an engaging candour. The saints of 
Heaven shine dimly through a nebulous 
haze of hagiology. They are embodi- 
ments of inaccessible virtues, as remote 
from us and from our neighbours as if 
they had lived on another planet. There 
is no more use in asking us to imitate 
these incomprehensible creatures than 
there would be in asking us to climb by 
easy stages to the moon. Without some 
common denominator, sinner and saint 
are as aloof from each other as sinner 
and archangel. Without some clue to 
the saint's spiritual identity, the record 
of his labours and hardships, fasts, vis- 
ions, and miracles, offers nothing more 
helpful than bewilderment. We may be 
edified or we may be sceptical, accord- 
ing to our temperament and training; 

71 



Americans and Others 

but a profound unconcern devitalizes 
both scepticism and edification. What 
have we mortals in common with these 
perfected prodigies of grace? 

It was Cardinal Newman who first en- 
tered a protest against " minced " saints, 
against the pious and popular custom of 
chopping up human records into lessons 
for the devout. He took exception to the 
hagiological licence which assigns lofty 
motives to trivial actions. "The saint 
from humility made no reply." "The 
saint was silent out of compassion for the 
ignorance of the speaker." He invited us 
to approach the Fathers of the Church in 
their unguarded moments, in their or- 
dinary avocations, in their moods of 
gayety and depression; and, when we 
accepted the invitation, these figures, 
lofty and remote, became imbued with 
life. It is one thing to know that Saint 
Chrysostom retired at twenty-three to a 
monastery near Antioch, and there spent 
six years in seclusion and study. It is 

72 



Goodness and Gayety 

another and more enlightening thing to 
be made aware, through the medium of 
his own letters, that he took this step 
with reasonable doubts and misgivings, 
— doubts which extended to the fresh- 
ness of the monastery bread, misgivings 
which concerned themselves with the 
sweetness of the monastery oil. And 
when we read these candid expressions 
of anxiety. Saint Chrysostom, by virtue 
of his healthy young appetite, and his 
distaste (which any poor sinner can share) 
for rancid oil, becomes a man and a 
brother. It is yet more consoling to know 
that when well advanced in sainthood, 
when old, austere, exiled, and suffering 
many privations for conscience' sake, 
Chrysostom was still disposed to be a 
trifle fastidious about his bread. He 
writes from Csesarea to Theodora that 
he has at last found clean water to drink, 
and bread which can be chewed. " More- 
over, I no longer wash myself in broken 
crockery, but have contrived some sort 

73 



Americans and Others 

of bath; also I have a bed to which I 
can confine myself." 

If Saint Chrysostom possessed, accord- 
ing to Newman, a cheerful temper, and 
"a sunniness of mind all his own," Saint 
Gregory of Nazianzus was a fair humour- 
ist, and Saint Basil was a wit. " Pensive 
playfulness" is Newman's phrase for 
Basil, but there was a speed about his 
retorts which did not always savour of 
pensiveness. When the furious governor 
of Pontus threatened to tear out his liver, 
Basil, a confirmed invalid, replied suavely, 
'* It is a kind intention. My liver, as at 
present located, has given me nothing 
but uneasiness." 

To Gregory, Basil was not only guide, 
philosopher, and friend ; but also a cher- 
ished target for his jests. It has been 
wisely said that we cannot really love 
anybody at whom we never laugh. Greg- 
ory loved Basil, revered him, and laughed 
at him. Does Basil complain, not un- 
naturally, that Tiberina is cold, damp, 

74 



Goodness and Gayety 

and muddy, Gregory writes to him un- 
sympathetically that he is a '* clean-footed, 
tip-toeing, capering man." Does Basil 
promise a visit, Gregory sends word to 
Amphilochus that he must have some 
fine pot-herbs, "lest Basil should be 
hungry and cross." Does Gregory visit 
Basil in his solitude at Pontus, he ex- 
presses in no measured terms his sense 
of the discomfort he endures. It would 
be hard to find, in all the annals of cor- 
respondence, a letter written with a more 
laudable and well-defined intention of 
teasing its recipient, than the one dis- 
patched to Basil by Gregory after he has 
made good his escape from the austeri- 
ties of his friend's housekeeping. 

" I have remembrance of the bread and 
of the broth, — so they were named, — 
and shall remember them ; how my teeth 
stuck in your hunches, and lifted and 
heaved themselves as out of paste. You, 
indeed, will set it out in tragic style, tak- 
ing a sublime tone from your own suffer- 

75 



Americans and Others 

ings ; but for me, unless that true Lady 
Bountiful, your mother, had rescued me 
quickly, showing herself in my need like 
a haven to the tempest-tossed, I had 
been dead long ago, getting myself litde 
honour, though much pity, from Pontic 
hospitality." 

This is not precisely the tone in which 
the lives of the saints (of any saints of 
any creeds) are written. Therefore is it 
better to read what the saints say for 
themselves than what has been said about 
them. This is not precisely the point of 
view which is presented unctuously for 
our consideration, yet it makes all other 
points of view intelligible. It is contrary 
to human nature to court privations. We 
know that the saints did court them, and 
valued them as avenues to grace. It is 
in accord with human nature to meet 
privations cheerfully, and with a whim- 
sical sense of discomfiture. When we 
hear the echo of a saint's laughter ring- 
ing down the centuries, we have a clue 

76 



Goodness and Gayety 

to his identity ; not to his whole and he- 
roic self, but to that portion of him which 
we can best understand, and with which 
we claim some humble brotherhood. We 
ourselves are not hunting assiduously for 
hardships ; but which one of us has not 
summoned up courage enough to laugh 
in the face of disaster? 

There is no reading less conducive to 
good spirits than the recitals of mission- 
aries, or than such pitiless records as 
those compiled by Dr. Thomas William 
Marshall in his two portly volumes on 
" Christian Missions." The heathen, as 
portrayed by Dr. Marshall, do not in the 
least resemble the heathen made familiar 
to us by the hymns and tracts of our in- 
fancy. So far from calling on us to deliver 
their land "from error's chain," they 
mete out prompt and cruel death to their 
deliverers. So far from thirsting for Gos- 
pel truths, they thirst for the blood of the 
intruders. This is frankly discouraging, 
and we could never read so many pages 

77 



Americans and Others 

of disagreeable happenings, were it not 
for the gayety of the letters which Dr. 
Marshall quotes, and which deal less in 
heroics than in pleasantries. Such men as 
Bishop Bemeux, the Abbe Retord, and 
Father Feron, missionaries in Cochin- 
China and Corea, all possessed that pro- 
tective sense of humour which kept up 
their spirits and their enthusiasms. Father 
Feron, for example, hidden away in the 
" Valley of the Pines," six hundred miles 
from safety, writes to his sister in the 
autumn of 1858: — 

" I am lodged in one of the finest houses 
in the village, that of the catechist, an 
opulent man. It is considered to be worth 
a pound sterling. Do not laugh ; there 
are some of the value of eightpence. 
My room has a sheet of paper for a door, 
the rain filters through my grass-covered 
roof as fast as it falls outside, and two 
large kettles barely suffice to receive it. 
. . . The Prophet Elisha, at the house of 
the Shunamite, had for furniture a bed, 

78 



Goodness and Gayety 

a table, a chair, and a candlestick, — four 
pieces in all. No superfluity there. Now 
if I search well, I can also find four articles 
in my room; a wooden candlestick, a 
trunk, a pair of shoes, and a pipe. Bed 
none, chairs none, table none. Am I, 
then, richer or poorer than the Prophet ? 
It is not an easy question to answer, for, 
granting that his quarters were more 
comfortable than mine, yet none of the 
things belonged to him ; while in my 
case, although the candlestick is bor- 
rowed from the chapel, and the trunk 
from Monseignetu" Bemeux, the shoes 
(worn only when I say Mass) and the 
pipe are my very own." 

Surely if one chanced to be the sister 
of a missionary in Corea, and apprehen- 
sive, with good cause, of his personal 
safety, this is the kind of a letter one 
would be glad to receive. The comfort 
of finding one's brother disinclined to 
take what Saint Gregory calls " a sub- 
lime tone" would tend — illogically, I 

79 



Americans and Others 

own, — to ease the burden of anxiety. 
Even the remote reader, sick of discour- 
aging details, experiences a renewal of 
confidence, and all because Father Fe- 
ron's good humour is of the common 
kind which we can best understand, and 
with which it befits every one of us to 
meet the vicissitudes of life. 

I have said that the ardent reformer is 
seldom gay. Small wonder, when his 
eyes are turned upon the dark places of 
earth, and his whole strength is consumed 
in combat. Yet Saint Teresa, the most 
redoubtable reformer of her day, was gay. 
No other word expresses the quality of 
her gladness. She was not only spiritu- 
ally serene, she was humanly gay, and 
this in the face of acute ill-health, and 
many profound discouragements. We 
have the evidence of all her contempo- 
raries, — friends, nuns, patrons, and con- 
fessors; and we have the far more endur- 
ing testimony of her letters, in proof of 
this mirthfulness of spirit, which won its 

80 



Goodness and Gayety 

way into hearts, and lightened the aus- 
terities of her rule. " A very cheerful and 
gentle disposition, an excellent temper, 
and absolutely void of melancholy," 
wrote Ribera. " So merry that when she 
laughed, every one laughed with her, but 
very grave when she was serious." 

There is a strain of humour, a delicate 
and somewhat biting wit in the corres- 
pondence of Saint Teresa, and in her 
admonitions to her nuns. There is also 
an inspired common sense which we 
hardly expect to find in the writings of a 
religious and a mystic. But Teresa was 
not withdrawn from the world. She 
travelled incessantiy from one end of 
Spain to the other, establishing new 
foundations, visiting her convents, and 
dealing with all classes of men, from the 
soldier to the priest, from the prince to 
the peasant. The severity of her disci- 
pline was tempered by a tolerant and 
half-amused insight into the pardonable 
foibles of humanity. She held back her 

8i 



Americans and Others 

nuns with one hand from " the frenzy of 
self-mortification," which is the mainstay 
of spiritual vanity, and with the other 
hand from a too solicitous regard for 
their own comfort and convenience. 
They were not to consider that the fear 
of a headache, — a non-existent head- 
ache threatening the future — was suffi- 
cient excuse for absenting themselves 
from choir ; and, if they were too ailing 
to practise any other austerities, the rule 
of silence, she reminded them, could do 
the feeblest no harm. " Do not contend 
wordily over matters of no consequence," 
was her counsel of perfection. "Fly a 
thousand leagues from such observations 
as * You see I was right,' or * They did 
me an injustice.' " 

Small wonder that peace reigned 
among the discalced Carmelites so long 
as Teresa ruled. Practical and fearless 
(save when a lizard ran up her sleeve, on 
which occasion she confesses she nearly 
" died of fright,") her much-sought ad- 

82 



Goodness and Gayety 

vice was always on the side of reason. 
Asceticism she prized ; dirt she abhorred. 
" For the love of Heaven," she wrote to 
the Provincial, Gratian, then occupied 
with his first foundation of discalced 
friars, " let your fraternity be careful that 
they have dean beds and tablecloths, 
even though it be more expensive, for it 
is a terrible thing not to be cleanly." No 
persuasion could induce her to retain a 
novice whom she believed to be unfitted 
for her rule : — "We women are not so 
easy to know," was her scornful reply to 
the Jesuit, Olea, who held his judgment 
in such matters to be infallible ; but 
nevertheless her practical soul yearned 
over a well-dowered nun. When an "ex- 
cellent novice" with a fortune of six 
thousand ducats presented herself at the 
gates of the poverty-stricken convent in 
Seville, Teresa, then in Avila, was con- 
sumed with anxiety lest such an acqui- 
sition should, through some blunder, be 
lost. " For the love of God," wrote the 

83 



Americans and Others 

wise old saint to the prioress in Seville, 
" if she enters, bear with a few defects, 
for well does she deserve it." 

This is not the type of anecdote which 
looms large in the volumes of " minced 
saints " prepared for pious readers, and 
its absence has accustomed us to dis- 
sever humour from sanctity. But a can- 
did soul is, as a rule, a humorous soul, 
awake to the tragi-comic aspect of life, 
and immaculately free from self-decep- 
tion. And to such souls, cast like Teresa's 
in heroic mould, comes the perception 
of great moral truths, together with the 
sturdy strength which supports enthusi- 
asm in the face of human disabilities. 
They are the lantern-bearers of every 
age, of every race, of every creed, les 
dmes bien nkes whom it behooves us to 
approach fearlessly out of the darkness, 
for so only can we hope to understand. 



The Nervous Strain 

"Which fiddle-strings is weakness to expredge 
my nerves this night." — Mrs. Gamp. 

ANNA ROBESON BURR, in her 
scholarly analysis of the world's 
great autobiographies, has found 
occasion to compare the sufferings of the 
American woman under the average con- 
ditions of life with the endurance of the 
woman who, three hundred years ago, 
confronted dire vicissitudes with some- 
thing closely akin to insensibility. " To- 
day," says Mrs. Burr, " a child's illness, 
an over-gay season, the loss of an in- 
vestment, a family jar, — these are ac- 
cepted as sufficient cause for over-strained 
nerves and temporary retirement to a 
sanitarium. Thetiy war, rapine, fire, sword, 
prolonged and mortal peril, were consid- 
ered as furnishing no excuse to men or 
women for altering the habits, or slack- 

85 . 



Americans and Others 

ening the energies, of their daily exist- 



ence." 



As a matter of fact, Isabella d' Este wit- 
nessed the sacking of Rome without so 
much as thinking of nervous prostration. 
This was nearly four hundred years ago, 
but it is the high-water mark of feminine 
fortitude. To live through such days 
and nights of horror, and emerge there- 
from with unimpaired vitality, and un- 
quenched love for a beautiful and danger- 
ous world, is to rob the words " shock " 
and "strain" of all dignity and meaning. 
To resume at once the interrupted duties 
and pleasures of life was, for the March- 
ioness of Mantua, obligatory ; but none 
the less we marvel that she could play 
her r61e so well. 

A hundred and thirty years later, Sir 
Ralph Vemey, an exiled royalist, sent 
his young wife back to England to peti- 
tion Parliament for the restoration of 
his sequestrated estates. Lady Vemey's 
path was beset by difficulties and dan- 

86 



The Nervous Strain 

gers. She had few friends and many 
enemies, little money and cruel cares. 
She was, it is needless to state, pregnant 
when she left France, and paused in her 
work long enough to bear her husband 
" a lusty boy " ; after which Sir Ralph 
writes that he fears she is neglecting her 
guitar, and urges her to practise some 
new music before she returns to the 
Continent. 

Such pages of history make tonic read- 
ing for comfortable ladies who, in their 
comfortable homes, are bidden by their 
comfortable doctors to avoid the strain 
of anything and everything which makes 
the game of life worth living. It is our 
wont to think of our great-great-great- 
grandmothers as spending their days in 
undisturbed tranquillity. We take im- 
aginary naps in their quiet rooms, envy- 
ing the serenity of an existence unvexed 
by telegrams, telephones, clubs, lectures, 
committee - meetings, suffrage demon- 
strations, and societies for harrying our 

87 



Americans and Others 

neighbours. How sweet and still those 
spacious rooms must have been I What 
was the remote tinkling of a harp, com- 
pared to pianolas, and phonographs, and 
all the infernal contrivances of science 
for producing and perpetuating noise? 
What was a fear of ghosts compared to 
a knowledge of germs? What was re- 
peated child-bearing, or occasional small- 
pox, compared to the "over-pressure" 
upon "delicate organisms," which is 
making the fortunes of doctors to-day ? 
So we argue. Yet in good truth our 
ancestors had their share of pressure, 
and more than their share of ill-health. 
The stomach was the same ungrateful 
and rebellious organ then that it is now. 
Nature was the same strict accountant 
then that she is now, and balanced her 
debit and credit columns with the same 
relentless accuracy. The " liver " of the 
last century has become, we are told, the 
" nerves " of to-day ; which transmigra- 
tion should be a bond of sympathy be- 

88 



The Nervous Strain 

tween the new woman'and that unchange- 
able article, man. We have warmer spirits 
and a higher vitality than our home- 
keeping great-grandmothers ever had. 
We are seldom hysterical, and we never 
faint If we are gay, our gayeties in- 
volve less exposure and fatigue. If we 
are serious-minded, our attitude towards 
our own errors is one of unaffected leni- 
ency. That active, lively, all-embracing 
assurance of eternal damnation, which 
was part of John Wesley's vigorous 
creed, might have broken down the nerv- 
ous system of a mollusk. The modem 
nurse, jealously guarding her patient 
from all but the neutralities of life, may 
be pleased to know that when Wesley 
made his memorable voyage to Savan- 
nah, a young woman on board the ship 
gave birth to her first child ; and Wes- 
ley's journal is full of deep concern, be- 
cause the other women about her failed 
to improve the occasion by exhorting the 
poor tormented creature "to fear Him 

89 



Americans and Others 

who is able to inflict sharper pains than 
these." 

As for the industrious idleness which 
is held to blame for the wrecking of our 
nervous systems, it was not unknown 
to an earlier generation. Madame Le 
Brun assures us that, in her youth, pleas- 
ure-loving people would leave Brussels 
early in the morning, travel all day to 
Paris, to hear the opera, and travel all 
night home. " That," she observes, — 
as well she may, — " was considered be- 
ing fond of the opera." A paragraph in 
one of Horace Walpole's letters gives us 
the record of a day and a night in the 
life of an English lady, — sixteen hours 
of " strain " which would put New York 
to the blush. " I heard the Duchess of 
Gordon's journal of last Monday," he 
writes to Miss Berry in the spring of 1791. 
" She first went to hear Handel's music in 
the Abbey ; she then clambered over the 
benches, and went to Hastings's trial in 
the Hall ; after dinner, to the play ; then 

90 



The Nervous Strain 

to Lady Lucan's assembly ; after that to 
Ranelagh, and returned to Mrs. Hobart's 
faro-table ; gave a ball herself in the even- 
ing of that morning, into which she must 
have got a good way ; and set out for 
Scotland the next day. Hercules could 
not have accomplished a quarter of her 
labours in the same space of time." 

Human happiness was not to this gay 
Gordon a "painless languor"; and if 
she failed to have nervous prostration — 
under another name — she was cheated 
of her dues. Wear-and-tear plus luxury 
is said to break down the human system 
more rapidly than wear-and-tear plus 
want; but perhaps wear-and-tear plus 
pensive self-consideration is the most de- 
structive agent of all. " Apr^s tout, c'est 
un monde passable" ; and the Duchess 
of Gordon was too busy acquainting her- 
self with this fact to count the costs, or 
even pay the penalty. 

One thing is sure, — we cannot live 
in the world without vexation and with- 

91 



Americans and Others 

out fatigue. We are bidden to avoid 
both, just as we are bidden to avoid an 
injudicious meal, a resdess night, a close 
and crowded room, an uncomfortable 
sensation of any kind, — as if these things 
were not the small coin of existence. An 
American doctor who was delicately 
swathing his nervous patient in cotton 
wool, explained that, as part of the pro- 
cess, she must be secluded from every- 
thing unpleasant. No disturbing news 
must be told her. No needless contra- 
diction must be offered her. No disagree- 
able word must be spoken to her. " But 
doctor,'' said the lady, who had long 
before retired with her nerves from all 
lively contact with realities, " who is there 
that would dream of saying anything dis- 
agreeable tome?" "Madam," retorted 
the physician, irritated for once into un- 
professional candour, " have you then no 
family ? " 

There is a bracing quality about family 
criticism, if we are strong enough to bear 

92 



The Nervous Strain 

its veracities. What makes it so useful 
is that it recognizes existing conditions. 
All the well-meant wisdom of the " Don't 
Worry " books is based upon immunity 
from common sensations and from every- 
day experience. We must — unless we 
are insensate — take our share of worry 
along with our share of mishaps. All the 
kindly counsellors who, in scientific jour- 
nals, entreat us to keep on tap " a vivid 
hope, a cheerful resolve, an absorbing 
interest," by way of nerve-tonic, forget 
that these remedies do not grow under 
glass. They are hardy plants, springing 
naturally in eager and animated natures. 
Artificial remedies might be efficacious 
in an artificial world. In a real world, 
the best we can do is to meet the plagues 
of life as Dick Turpin met the hangman's 
noose, " with manly resignation, though 
with considerable disgust." Moreover, 
disagreeable things are often very stimu- 
lating. A visit to some beautiful little 
rural almshouses in England convinced 

93 



Americans and Others 

me that what kept the old inmates alert 
and in love with life was, not the charm 
of their bright-coloured gardens, nor the 
comfort of their cottage hearths, but the 
vital jealousies and animosities which 
pricked their sluggish blood to tingling. 
There are prophets who predict the 
downfall of the human race through un- 
due mental development, who foresee us 
(flatteringly, I must say) winding up the 
world's history in a kind of intellectual 
apotheosis. They write distressing pages 
about the strain of study in schools, the 
strain of examinations, the strain of com- 
petition, the strain of night-work, when 
children ought to be in bed, the strain 
of day-work, when they ought to be at 
play. An article on " Nerves and Over- 
Pressure " in the " Dublin Review " con- 
veys the impression that little boys and 
girls are dangerously absorbed in their 
lessons, and draws a fearful picture of 
these poor innocents literally " grinding 
from babyhood." It is over-study (an 

94 



The Nervous Strain 

evil from which our remote ancestors 
were wholly and happily exempt) which 
lays, so we are told, the foundation of all 
our nervous disorders. It is this wasting 
ambition which exhausts the spring of 
childhood and the vitality of youth. 

There must be some foundation for 
fears so often expressed ; though when 
we look at the blooming boys and girls 
of our acquaintance, with their pladd 
ignorance and their love of fun, their 
glory in athletics and their transparent 
contempt for learning, it is hard to be- 
lieve that they are breaking down their 
constitutions by study. Nor is it possi- 
ble to acquire even the most modest sub- 
stitute for education without some effort. 
The carefully fostered theory that school- 
work can be made easy and enjoyable 
breaks down as soon as anything, how- 
ever trivial, has to be learned. 

Life is a real thing in the school-room 
and in the nursery ; and children — left 
to their own devices — accept it with 

95 



Americans and Others 

wonderful courage and sagacity. If we 
allow to their souls some noble and free 
expansion, they may be trusted to divert 
themselves from that fretful self-con- 
sciousness which the nurse calls naughti- 
ness, and the doctor, nerves. A little 
wholesome neglect, a little discipline, 
plenty of play, and a fair chance to be 
glad and sorry as the hours swing by, — 
these things are not too much to grant to 
childhood. That careful coddling which 
deprives a child of all delicate and strong 
emotions lest it be saddened, or excited, 
or alarmed, leaves it dangerously soft of 
fibre. Coleridge, an unhappy litde lad at 
school, was lifted out of his own troubles 
by an acquaintance with the heroic 
sorrows of the world. There is no page 
of history, however dark, there is no 
beautiful old tale, however tragic, which 
does not impart some strength and 
some distinction to the awakening mind. 
It is possible to overrate the superla- 
tive merits of insipidity as a mental 

96 



The Nervous Strain 

and moral force in the development of 
youth. 

There are people who surrender them- 
selves without reserve to needless activi- 
ties, who have a real affection for tele- 
phones, and district messengers, and the 
importunities of their daily mail. If they 
are women, they put special delivery 
stamps on letters which would lose no- 
thing by a month's delay. If they are 
men, they exult in the thought that they 
can be reached by wireless telegraphy 
on mid-ocean. We are apt to think of 
these men and women as painful pro- 
ducts of our own time and of our own 
land ; but they have probably existed 
since the building of the Tower of Babel, 
— a nerve-racking piece of work which 
gave peculiar scope to strenuous and 
impotent energies. 

A woman whose every action is hur- 
ried, whose every hour is open to dis- 
turbance, whose every breath is drawn 
with superfluous emphasis, will talk 

97 



Americans and Others 

about the nervous strain under which 
she is living, as though dining out and 
paying the cook's wages were the things 
which are breaking her down. The rem- 
edy proposed for such ** strain " is with- 
drawal from the healthy bufletings of 
life, — not for three days, as Burke with- 
drew in order that he might read " Eve- 
lina," and be rested and refreshed thereby ; 
but long enough to permit of the notion 
that immunity from buflFetings is a pos- 
sible condition of existence, — of all er- 
rors, the most irretrievable. 

It has been many centuries since Mar- 
cus Aurelius observed the fretful disquiet 
of Rome, which must have been strik- 
ingly like our fretful disquiet to-day, and 
proffered counsel, unheeded then as now : 
" Take pleasure in one thing and rest in 
it, passing from one social act to another, 
thinking of God." 



The Girl Graduate 

*' When I find learning and wisdom united in one 
person, I do not wait to consider the sex ; I bend in 
admiration/' — La Bruykrs. 

WE shall never know, though we 
shall always wonder, why cer- 
tain phrases, carelessly flung 
to us by poet or by orator, should be 
endowed with regrettable vitality. When 
Tennyson wrote that mocking line about 
"sweet girl graduates in their golden 
hair," he could hardly have surmised that 
it would be quoted exuberantly year after 
weary year, or that with each successive 
June it would reappear as the inspiration 
of flowery editorials, and of pictures, mo- 
notonously amorous, in our illustrated 
journals. Perhaps in view of the serious 
statistics which have for some time past 
girdled the woman student, statistics 
dealing exhaustively with her honours, 

99 

790581 A 



Americans and Others 

her illnesses, her somewhat nebulous 
achievements, and the size of her infant 
families, it is as well to realize that the 
big, unlettered, easy-going world regards 
her still from the standpoint of golden 
hair, and of the undying charm of im- 
maturity. 

In justice to the girl graduate, it must 
be said that she takes herself simply and 
sanely. It is not her fault that statisti- 
cians note down every breath she draws ; 
and many of their most heartrending alle- 
gations have passed into college jokes, 
traditional jokes, fated to descend from 
senior to freshman for happy years to 
come. The student learns in the give- 
and-take of communal life to laugh at 
many things, partly from sheer high 
spirits, partly from youthful cynicism, and 
the habit of sharpening her wit against 
her neighbour's. It is commonly believed 
that she is an unduly serious young per- 
son with an insatiable craving for know- 
ledge ; in reality she is often as healthily 

loo 



The Girl Graduate 

unresponsive as is her Yale or Harvard 
brother. If she cannot yet weave her 
modest acquirements into the tissue of 
her life as unconcernedly as her brother 
does, it is not because she has been edu- 
cated beyond her mental capacity : it is 
because social conditions are not for her 
as inevitable as they are for him. 

Things were simpler in the old days, 
when college meant for a woman the spe- 
cial training needed for a career ; when, 
battling often with poverty, she made 
every sacrifice for the education which 
would give her work a market value ; and 
when all she asked in return was the dig- 
nity of self-support. Now many girls, un- 
spurred by necessity or by ambition, enter 
college because they are keen for per- 
sonal and intellectual freedom, because 
they desire the activities and the pleas- 
ures which college generously gives. 
They bring with them some traditions of 
scholarship, and some knowledge of the 
world, with a corresponding elasticity of 

lOI 



Americans and Others 

judgment. They may or may not be good 
students, but their influence makes for 
serenity and balance. Their four years' 
course lacks, however, a definite goal. 
It is a training for life, as is the foiu* years' 
course of their Yale or Harvard brothers, 
but with this difference, — the college 
woman's life is still open to adjustment. 
Often it adjusts itself along time-hon- 
oured lines, and with time-honoured re- 
sults. In this happy event, some mystic 
figures are recalculated in scientific jour- 
nals, the graduate's babies are added to 
the fractional birth-rate accredited to the 
college woman, her family and friends 
consider that, individually, she has settled 
the whole vexed question of education 
and domesticity, and the world, enam- 
oured always of the traditional type of 
femininity, goes on its way rejoicing. If, 
however, the graduate evinces no inclin- 
ation for social and domestic delights, if 
she longs to do some definite work, to 
breathe the breath of man's activities, 

I02 



The Girl Graduate 

and to guide herself, as a man must do, 
through the intricate mazes of life, it is 
the part of justice and of wisdom to let 
her try. Nothing steadies the restless 
soul like work, — real work which has 
an economic value, and is measured by 
the standards of the world. The college 
woman has been trained to independence 
of thought, and to a wide reasonableness 
of outlook. She has also received some 
equipment in the way of knowledge ; not 
more, perhaps, than could be easily ab- 
sorbed in the ordinary routine of life, but 
enough to give her a fair start in what- 
ever field of industry she enters. If she 
develops into efficiency, if she makes 
good her hold upon work, she silences 
her critics. If she fails, and can, in Stev- 
enson's noble words, "take honourable 
defeat to be a form of victory," she has 
not wasted her endeavours. 

It is strange that the advantages of 
a college course for girls — advantages 
solid and reckonable — should be still so 

103 



Americans and Others 

sharply questioned by men and women 
of the world. It is stranger still that 
its earnest advocates should claim for it 
in a special manner the few merits it 
does not possess. When President David 
Starr Jordan, of Leland Stanford Uni- 
versity, tells us that "it is hardly neces- 
sary among intelligent men and women 
to arg^e that a good woman is a better 
one for having received a college edu- 
cation ; anything short of this is inade- 
quate for the demands of modem life and 
modem culture " ; we can only echo the 
words of the wise cat in Mr. Froude's 
" Cat's Pilgrimage," " There may be truth 
in what you say, but your view is limited." 
Goodness, indeed, is not a matter easily 
opened to discussion. Who can pigeon- 
hole goodness, or assign it a locality? 
But culture (if by the word we mean that 
common understanding of the world's best 
traditions which enables us to meet one 
another with mental ease) is not the fair 
fruit of a college education. It is prim- 

104 



The Girl Graduate 

arily a matter of inheritance, of lifelong 
surroundings, of temperament, of delicacy 
of taste, of early and vivid impressions. 
It is often found in college, but it is not 
a collegiate product. The steady and 
absorbing work demanded of a student 
who is seeking a degree, precludes wide 
wanderings "in the realms of gold." If, 
in her four years of study, she has 
gained some solid knowledge of one or 
two subjects, with a power of approach 
in other directions, she has done well, and 
justified the wisdom of the group system, 
which makes for intellectual discipline 
and real attainments. 

In households where there is little edu- 
cation, the college daughter is reverenced 
for what she knows, — for her Latin, her 
mathematics, her biology. What she 
does not know, being also unknown to 
her family, causes no dismay. In house- 
holds where the standard of cultivation 
is high, the college daughter is made the 
subject of good-humoured ridicule, be- 

105 



Americans and Others 

cause she lacks the general information of 
her sisters, — because she has never heard 
of Abelard and Heloise, of Graham of 
Claverhouse, of "The Beggars' Opera." 
Nobody expects the college son to know 
these things, or is in the least surprised 
when he does not ; but the college daughter 
is supposed to be the repository of univer- 
sal erudition. Every now and then some- 
body rushes into print with indignant 
illustrations of her ignorance, as though 
ignorance were not the one common 
possession of mankind. Those of us who 
are not undergoing examinations are not 
driven to reveal it, — a comfortable cir- 
cumstance, which need not, however, 
make us unreasonably proud. 

Therefore, when we are told of sopho- 
mores who place Shakespeare in the 
twelfth, and Dickens in the seventeenth 
century, who are under the impression 
that " Don Quixote " flowed from the fer- 
tile pen of Mr. Marion Crawford, and 
who are not aware that a gendeman 

io6 



The Girl Graduate 

named James Boswell wrote a most 
entertaining life of another gentleman 
named Samuel Johnson, we need not lift 
up horror-stricken hands to Heaven, but 
call to mind how many other things 
there are in this world to know. That a 
girl student should mistake ^^ Launcelot 
Gobbo^^ for King Arthur's knight is not 
a matter of surprise to one who remem- 
bers how three young men, graduates of 
the oldest and proudest colleges in the 
land, placidly confessed ignorance of 
^^ Petruchioy Shakespeare, after all, be- 
longs to "the realms of gold." The higher 
education, as now understood, permits 
the student to escape him, and to escape 
the Bible as well. As a consequence of 
these exemptions, a bachelor of arts may 
be, and often is, unable to meet his in- 
tellectual equals with mental ease. Allu- 
sions that have passed into the common 
vocabulary of cultivated men and women 
have no meaning for him. Does not Mr. 
Andrew Lang tell us of an Oxford stu- 

107 



Americans and Others 

dent who wanted to know what people 
meant when they said "hankering after 
the flesh-pots of Egypt"; and has not 
the present writer been asked by a Har- 
vard graduate if she could remember a 
Joseph, "somewhere'* in the Old Testa- 
ment, who was " decoyed into Egypt by 
a coat of many colours " ? 

To measure any form of schooling by 
its direct results is to narrow a wide issue 
to insignificance. The by-products of ed- 
ucation are the things which count. It 
has. been said by an admirable educator 
that the direct results obtained from Eton 
and Rugby are a few copies of indiffer- 
ent Latin verse ; the by-products are the 
young men who run the Indian Empire. 
We may be startled for a moment by 
discovering a student of political econ- 
omy to be wholly and happily ignorant of 
Mr. Lloyd-George's " Budget," the most 
vivid object-lesson of our day ; but how 
many Americans who talked about the 
budget, and had impassioned views on 

io8 



The Girl Graduate 

the subject, knew what it really con- 
tained? If the student's intelligence is 
so trained that she has some adequate 
grasp of economics, if she has been lifted 
once atid forever out of the Robin Hood 
school of political economy, which is so 
dear to a woman's generous heart, it mat- 
ters little how early or how late she be- 
comes acquainted with the history of her 
own time. " Depend upon it," said the 
wise Dr. Johnson, whom undergraduates 
are sometimes wont to slight, " no woman 
was ever the worse for sense and know- 
ledge." It was his habit to rest a super- 
structure on foundations. 

The college graduate is far more imma- 
ture than her characteristic self-reliance 
leads us to suppose. By her side, the girl 
who has left school at eighteen, and has 
lived four years in the world, is weighted 
with experience. The extension of youth 
is surely as great a boon to women as to 
men. There is time enough ahead of all 
of us in which to grow old and circum- 

109 



Americans and Others 

spect. For four years the student's inter* 
ests have been keen and concentrated, the 
healthy, limited interests of a community. 
For four years her pleasures have been 
simple and sane. For four years her am- 
bitions, like the ambitions of her college 
brother, have been as deeply concerned 
with athletics as with text-books. She has 
had a better chance for physical develop- 
ment than if she had " come out " at eight- 
een. Her college life has been exception- 
ally happy, because its complications have 
been few, and its freedom as wide as wis- 
dom would permit. The system of self- 
government, now introduced into the 
colleges, has justified itself beyond all 
questioning. It has promoted a clear un- 
derstanding of honour, it has taught the 
student the value of discipline, it has lent 
dignity to the routine of her life. 

Some reverence for the laws ourselves have made, 

is surely the first and best lesson which 
the citizen of a republic needs to learn. 

no 



The Girl Graduate 

Writers on educational themes have 
pointed out — with tremors of apprehen- 
sion — that while a woman student work- 
ing among men at a foreign university 
is mentally stimulated by her surround- 
ings, stimulated often to the point of 
scholarship, her development is not uni- 
form and normal. She is always in dan- 
ger of sinking her femininity, or of over- 
emphasizing it. In the former case, she 
loses charm and personality ; in the latter, 
sanity and balance. From both perils the 
college woman in the United States is 
happily exempt. President Jordan offers 
as a plea for co-education the healthy 
sense of companionship between boy and 
girl students. " There is less of silliness 
and folly," he says, " where man is not a 
novelty." But, in truth, this particular 
form of silliness and folly is at a discount 
in every woman's college, simply be- 
cause the interests and occupations which 
crowd the student's day leave littie room 
for its expansion. 

IIX 



Americans and Others 

The three best things about the college 
life of girls are its attitude towards money 
(an attitude which contrasts sharply with 
that of many private schools), its attitude 
towards social disparities, and its attitude 
towards men. The atmosphere of the 
college is reasonably democratic. Like 
gravitates towards like, and a similarity 
of background and tradition forms a nat- 
ural basis for companionship ; but there 
is tolerance for other backgrounds which 
are not without dignity, though they may 
be lacking in distinction. Poverty is ad- 
mittedly inconvenient, but carries no re- 
proach. Light hearts and j esting tongues 
minimize its discomforts. I well remember 
when the coming of Madame Bernhardt 
to Philadelphia in 190 1 fired the students 
of Bryn Mawr College with the justifiable 
ambition to see this great actress in all 
her finer r61es. Those who had money 
spent it royally. Those who had none 
offered their possessions, — books, orna- 
ments, tea-cups, for sale. " Such a chance 

112 



The Girl Graduate 

to buy bargains," observed one young 
spendthrift, who had been endeavouring 
to dispose* of all she needed most; "but 
unluckily everybody wants to sell. We 
know now the importance of the consum- 
ing classes, and how useful in their mod- 
est way some idle rich would be." 

That large and influential portion of 
the community which does not know its 
own mind, and which the rest of the 
world is always endeavouring to concili- 
ate, is still divided between its honest 
desire to educate women, and its fear lest 
the woman, when educated, may lose the 
conservative force which is her most val- 
uable asset. That small and combative 
portion of the community which knows 
its own mind accurately, and which al- 
ways demands the impossible, is deter- 
mined that the college girl shall betake 
herself to practical pursuits, that she shall 
wedge into her four years of work, courses 
in domestic science, the chemistry of food, 
nursing, dressmaking, house sanitation, 

113 



Americans and Others 

pedagogy, and that blight of the nursery, 
— child-study. These are the things, we 
are often told, which it behooves a wo- 
man to know, and by the mastery of 
which she is able, so says a censorious 
writer in the " Educational Review," " to 
repay in some measure her debt to man, 
who has extended to her the benefits of 
a higher education." 

It is to be feared that the girl gradu- 
ate, the youthful bachelor of arts who 
steps smiling through the serried ranks 
of students, her heart beating gladly in 
response to their generous applause, has 
littie thought of repaying her debt to 
man. Somebody has made an address 
which she was too nervous to hear, and 
has affirmed, with that impressiveness 
which we all lend to our easiest general- 
izations, that the purpose of college is to 
give women a broad and liberal educa- 
tion, and, at the same time, to preserve 
and develop the characteristics of a com- 
plete womanhood. Somebody else has 

114 



The Girl Graduate 

followed up the address with a few fer- 
vent remarks, declaring that the only- 
proof of competence is performance. 
" The worid belongs to those who have 
stormed it." This last ringing sentence 
— delivered with an almost defiant air 
of originality — has perhaps caught the 
graduate's ear, but its familiar cadence 
awakened no response. Has she not al- 
ready stormed the world by taking her 
degree, and does not the world belong 
to her, in any case, by virtue of her youth 
and inexperience ? Never, while she lives, 
will it be so completely hers as on the 
day of her graduation. Let her enjoy 
her possession while she may. 

And her equipment ? Well, those of us 
who call to mind the medley of unstable 
facts, untenable theories, and undesir- 
able accomplishments, which was our 
substitute for education, deem her solidly 
informed. If the wisdom of the college 
president has rescued her from domestic 
science, and her own common sense has 

"5 



Americans and Others 

steered her clear of art, she has had a 
chance, in four years of study, to lay the 
foundation of knowledge. Her vocabu- 
lary is curiously limited. At her age, her 
grandmother, if a gentlewoman, used 
more words, and used them better. But 
then her grandmother had not associated 
exclusively with youthful companions. 
The graduate has serious views of life, 
which are not amiss, and a healthy sense 
of humour to enliven them. She is re- 
sourceful, honourable, and pathetically 
self-reliant. In her highest and happiest 
development, she merits the noble words 
in which an old Ferrara chronicler praises 
the loveliest and the most maligned wo- 
man in all history : " The lady is keen 
and intellectual, joyous and human, and 
possesses good reasoning powers." 

To balance these permanent gains, 
there are some temporary losses. The 
college student, if she does not take up 
a definite line of work, is apt, for a time 
at least, to be unquiet. That quality so 

ii6 



The Girl Graduate 

lovingly described by Peacock as "stay- 
athomeativeness '* is her least noticeable 
characteristic. The smiling discharge of 
uncongenial social duties, which disci- 
plines the woman of the worid, seems to 
her unseeing eyes a waste of time and 
opportunities. She has read littie, and 
that little, not for " human delight." Ex- 
cellence in literature has been pointed 
out to her, starred and double-starred, 
like Baedeker's cathedrals. She has been 
taught the value of standards, and has 
been spared the groping of the undi- 
rected reader, who builds up her own 
standards slowly and hesitatingly by an 
endless process of comparison. The sav- 
ing in time is beneficial, and some de- 
fects in taste have been remedied. But 
human delight does not respond to au- 
thority. It is the hour of rapturous read- 
ing and the power of secret thinking 
which make for personal distinction. The 
shipwreck of education, says Dr. Wil- 
liam James, is to be unable, after years 

117 



Americans and Others 

of study, to recognize unticketed emi- 
nence. The best result obtainable from 
college, with its liberal and honourable 
traditions, is that training in the humani- 
ties which lifts the raw boy and girl into 
the ranks of the understanding ; enabling 
them to sympathize with men's mistakes, 
to feel the beauty of lost causes, the 
pathos of misguided epochs, '' the cease- 
less whisper of permanent ideals." 



The Estranging Sea 

'* God bless the narrow sea which keeps her off, 
And keeps our Britain whole within itself." 

SO speaks " the Tory member's elder 
son/' in " The Princess " : — 

** . . . God bless the narrow seas ! 
I wish they were a whole Atlantic broad '* ; 

and the transatlantic reader, pausing to 
digest this conservative sentiment, won- 
ders what difference a thousand leagues 
would make. If the littie strip of rough- 
ened water which divides Dover from 
Calais were twice the ocean's breadth, 
could the division be any wider and 
deeper than it is ? 

We Americans cross from continent to 
continent, and are merged blissfully into 
the Old-World life. Inured from infancy 
to contrasts, we seldom resent the unfa- 
miliar. Our attitude towards it is, for the 
most part, frankly receptive, and full of 

119 



Americans and Others 

joyous possibilities. We take kindly, or 
at least tolerantly, to foreign creeds and 
customs. We fail to be affronted by 
what we do not understand. We are 
not without a shadowy conviction that 
there may be other points of view than 
our own, other beliefs than those we 
have been taught to cherish. Mr. Birrell, 
endeavouring to account for Charlotte 
Bronte's hostility to the Belgians, — who 
had been uncommonly kind to her, — 
says that she " had never any patience " 
with Catholicism. The remark invites 
the reply of the Papal chamberlain to 
Prince Herbert Bismarck, when that no- 
bleman, being in attendance upon the 
Emperor, pushed rudely — and unbidden 
— into Pope Leo's audience chamber. ** I 
am Prince Herbert Bismarck," shouted 
the German. "That," said the urbane 
Italian, " explains, but does not excuse 
your conduct." 

So much has been said and written 
about England's "splendid isolation," 

1 20 



The Estranging Sea 

the phrase has grown so familiar to Eng- 
lish eyes and ears, that the political and 
social attitude which it represents is a 
source of pride to thousands of English- 
men who are intelligent enough to know 
what isolation costs. " It is of the utmost 
importance/' says the "Spectator," "that 
we should understand that the temper 
with which England regards the other 
states of Europe, and the temper with 
which those states regard her, is abso- 
lutely different." And then, with ill-con- 
cealed elation, the writer adds: "The 
English are the most universally disliked 
nation on the face of the earth." 

Diplomatically, this may be true, 
though it is hard to see why. Socially 
and individually, it is not true at all. The 
English possess too many agreeable 
traits to permit them to be as much dis- 
liked as they think and hope they are. 
Even on the Continent, even in that 
strange tourist world where hostilities 
grow apace, where the courtesies of life 

121 



Americans and Others 

are relaxed, and where every nationality 
presents its least lovable aspect, the Eng- 
lish can never aspire to the prize of un- 
popularity. They are too silent, too clean, 
too handsome, too fond of fresh air, too 
schooled in the laws of justice which 
compel them to acknowledge — however 
reluctantly — the rights of other men. 
They are certainly uncivil, but that is a 
matter of no great moment We do not 
demand that our fellow tourists should 
be urbane, but that they should evince a 
sense of propriety in their behaviour, that 
they should be decently reluctant to an- 
noy. There is distinction in the English- 
man's quietude, and in his innate re- 
spect for order. 

But why should he covet alienation ? 
Why should he dread popularity, lest it 
imply that he resembles other men? 
When the tide of fortune turned in the 
South African war, and the news of the 
relief of Mafeking drove London mad 
with joy, there were Englishmen who 

122 



The Estranging Sea 

expressed grave alarm at the fervid dem- 
onstrations of the populace. England, 
they said, was wont to take her defeats 
without despondency, and her victories 
without elation. They feared the national 
character was changing, and becoming 
more like the character of Frenchmen 
and Americans. 

This apprehension — happily un- 
founded — was very insular and very 
English. National traits are, as a matter 
of fact, as enduring as the mountain-tops. 
They survive all change of policies, all 
shifting of boundary lines, all expansion 
and contraction of dominion. When 
Froissart tranquilly observed, "The Eng- 
lish are affable to no other nation than 
themselves," he spoke for the centuries 
to come. Sorbi^res, who visited England 
in 1663, who loved the English turf, hated 
and feared the English cooking, and 
deeply admired his hospitable English 
hosts, admitted that the nation had " a 
propensity to scorn all the rest of the 

123 



Americans and Others 

world." The famous verdict, "Z>j An- 
glais sont justesy mats pas bons^^ crystal- 
lizes the judgment of time. Foreign 
opinion is necessarily an imperfect diag- 
nosis, but it has its value to the open 
mind. He is a wise man who heeds it, 
and a dull man who holds it in derision. 
When an English writer in " Macmillan " 
remarks with airy contempt that French 
criticisms on England have " all the pi- 
quancy of a woman's criticisms on a 
man," the American — standing outside 
the ring — is amused by this superb 
simplicity of self-conceit. 

Fear of a French invasion and the care- 
fully nurtured detestation of the Papacy, 
— these two controlling influences must 
be held responsible for prejudices too 
deep to be fathomed, too strong to be 
overcome. "We do naturally hate the 
French," observes Mr. Pepys, with genial 
candour; and this ordinary, everyday 
prejudice darkened into fury when Na- 
poleon's conquests menaced the world. 

124 



The Estranging Sea 

Our school histories have taught us (it 
is the happy privilege of a school history 
to teach us many things which make nd 
impression on our minds) that for ten 
years England apprehended a descent 
upon her shores ; but we cannot realize 
what the apprehension meant, how it ate 
its way into the hearts of men, until we! 
stumble upon some such paragraph as 
this, from a letter of Lord Jeffrey's, written 
to Francis Homer in the winter of 1808 : 
** For my honest impression is that Bon- 
aparte will be in Dublin in about fifteen 
months, perhaps. And then, if I survive, 
I shall try to go to America." 

"If I survive 1" What wonder that 
Jeffrey, who was a clear-headed, unim- 
aginative man, cherished all his life a 
cold hostility to France ? What wonder 
that the painter Haydon, who was highly 
imaginative and not in the least clear- 
headed, felt such hostility to be an essen- 
tial part of patriotism? " In my day," he 
writes in his journal, " boys were bom, 

125 



Americans and Others 

nursed, and grew up, hating and to hate 
the name of Frenchman." He did hate 
it with all his heart, but then his earliest 
recollection — when he was but four years 
old — was seeing his mother Ijdng on her 
sofa and crying bitterly. He crept up to 
her, puzzled and frightened, poor baby, 
and she sobbed out : " They have cut off 
the Queen of France's head, my dear." 
Such an ineffaceable recollection colours 
childhood and sets character. It is an 
education for life. 

As for the Papacy, — well, years have 
softened but not destroyed England's he- 
reditary detestation of Rome. The easy 
tolerance of the American for any reli- 
gion, or for all religions, or for no religion 
at all, is the natural outcome of a mixed 
nationality, and of a tolerably serene back- 
ground. We have shed very little of our 
blood, or of our neighbour's blood, for the 
faith that was in us, or in him ; and, during 
the past half-century, forbearance has 
broadened into unconcern. Even the oc- 

126 



The Estranging Sea 

casional refusal of a pastor to allow a 
cleric of another denomination to preach 
in his church, can hardly be deemed a 
violent form of persecution. 

What American author, for example, 
can recall such childish memories as those 
which Mr. Edmund Gosse describes with 
illuminating candour in " Father and 
Son"? "We welcomed any social dis- 
order in any part of Italy, as likely to 
be annoying to the Papacy. If there 
was a custom-house officer stabbed in a 
fracas at Sassari, we gave loud thanks 
that liberty and light were breaking in 
upon Sardinia." What American sci- 
entist, taking a holiday in Italy, ever 
carried around with him such uncom- 
fortable sensations as those described by 
Professor Huxley in some of his Roman 
letters? " I must have a strong strain of 
Puritan blood in me somewhere," he 
writes to Sir John Donnelly, after a morn- 
ing spent at Saint Peter's, " for I am pos- 
sessed with a desire to arise and slay the 

127 



Americans and Others 

whole brood of idolaters, whenever I 
assist at one of these services." 

Save and except Miss Georgiana Pod- 
snap's faltering fancy for murdering her 
partners at a ball, this is the most blood- 
thirsty sentiment on record, and suggests 
but a limited enjoyment of a really beau- 
tiful service. Better the light-hearted un- 
concern of Mr. John Richard Green, the 
historian, who, albeit a clergyman of the 
Church of England, preferred going to 
the Church of Rome when Catholicism 
had an organ, and Protestantism, a har- 
monium. "The difference in truth be- 
tween them does n't seem to me to make 
up for the difference in instruments." 

Mr. Lowell speaks somewhere of a 
'* divine provincialism," which expresses 
the sturdy sense of a nation, and is but 
ill replaced by a cosmopolitanism lack- 
ing in virtue and distinction. Perhaps 
this is England's gift, and insures for her 
a solidarity which Americans lack. Ignor- 
ing or misunderstanding the standards 

128 



The Estranging Sea 

of other races, she sets her own so high 
we needs must raise our eyes to consider 
them. Yet when Mr. Arnold scandalized 
his fellow countrymen by the frank con- 
fession that he found foreign life " liber- 
ating," what did he mean but that he 
refused to 

** drag at each remove a lengthening chain "? 

His mind leaped gladly to meet new 
issues and fresh tides of thought; he 
stood ready to accept the reasonableness 
of usages which differed materially from 
his own ; and he took delight in the trivial 
happenings of every day, precisely be- 
cause they were un-English and unfa- 
miliar. Even the names of strange places, 
of German casdes and French villages, 
gave him, as they give Mr. Henry James, 
a curious satisfaction, a sense of har- 
mony and ordered charm. 

In that caustic volume, " Elizabeth in 
Riigen,'' there is an amusing description 
of the indignation of the bishop's wife, 

129 



Americans and Others 

Mrs. Harvey-Browne, over what she con- 
siders the stupidities of German speech. 

" What," she asks with asperity, " could 
be more supremely senseless than calling 
the Baltic the Ostsee ? " 

" Well, but why should n't they, if they 
want to ? " says Elizabeth densely. 

"But, dear Frau X, it is so foolish. 
East sea 1 Of what is it the east ? One 
is always the east of something, but one 
does n't talk about it. The name has no 
meaning whatever. Now ' Baltic ' exactly 
describes it." 

This is fiction, but it is fiction easily 
surpassed by fact, — witness the English 
tourist in France who said to Sir Leslie 
Stephen that it was "unnatural" for 
soldiers to dress in blue. Then, remem- 
bering certain British instances, he added 
hastily : " Except, indeed, for the Artil- 
lery, or the Blue Horse." " The English 
model," comments Sir Leslie, " with all 
its variations, appeared to him to be or- 
dained by nature." 

130 



The Estranging Sea 

The rigid application of one nation's 
formulas to another nation's manners has 
its obvious disadvantages. It is praise- 
worthy in an Englishman to carry his 
conscience — like his bathtub — wher- 
ever he goes, but both articles are sadly 
in his way. The American who leaves 
his conscience and his tub at home, and 
who trusts to being clean and good after 
a foreign fashion, has an easier time, and 
is not permanentiy stained. Being less 
cock-sure in the start about his standing 
with Heaven, he is subject to reasonable 
doubts as to the culpability of other peo- 
ple. The joyous outdoor Sundays of 
France and Germany please him at least 
as well as the shut-in Sundays of Eng- 
land and Scotland. He takes kindly to 
concerts, enlivened, without demoraliza- 
tion, by beer, and wonders why he can- 
not have them at home. Whatever is 
distinctive, whatever is national, inter- 
ests and delights him ; and he seldom 
feels called upon to decide a moral issue 

131 



Americans and Others 

which is not submitted to his judg- 
ment 

I was once in Valais when a rude play 
was acted by the peasants of Vissoye. 
It set forth the conversion of the Htms 
to Christianity through the medium of 
a miracle vouchsafed to Zach^o, the 
legendary apostle of Anniviers. The lit- 
tle stage was erected on a pleasant hill- 
side, the procession bearing the cross 
wound down from the village church, 
the priests from all the neighbouring 
towns were present, and the pious Valai- 
sans — as overjoyed as if the Huns were 
a matter of yesterday — sang a solemn 
Te Deum in thanksgiving for the con- 
version of their land. It would be hard 
to conceive of a drama less profane ; in- 
deed, only religious fervour could have 
breathed life into so much controversy ; 
yet I had English friends, intelligent, 
cultivated, and deeply interested, who 
refused to go with me to Vissoye be- 
cause it was Sunday afternoon. They 

132 



The Estranging Sea 

stood by their guns, and attended their 
own service in the drawing-room of the 
deserted litde hotel at Zinal ; gaining, I 
trust, the approval of their own con- 
sciences, and losing the experience of a 
lifetime. 

Disapprobation has ever been a power- 
ful stimulus to the Saxon mind. The 
heroic measures which it enforces com- 
mand our faltering homage, and might 
incite us to emulation, were we not tem- 
peramentally disposed to ask ourselves 
the fatal question, "Is it worth while?" 
When we remember that twenty-five 
thousand people in Great Britain left off 
eating sugar, by way of protest against 
slavery in the West Indies, we realize 
how the individual Englishman holds 
himself morally responsible for wrongs 
he is innocent of inflicting, and power- 
less to redress. Hood and other light- 
minded humourists laughed at him for 
drinking bitter tea; but he was not to 
be shaken by ridicule. Miss Edgeworth 

133 



Americans and Others 

voiced the conservative sentiment of her 
day when she objected to eating un- 
sweetened custards ; but he was not to 
be chilled by apathy. 

The same strenuous spirit impelled the 
English to express their sympathy for 
Captain Alfred Dre)rfus by staying away 
from the Paris fair of 1900. The London 
press loudly boasted that Englishmen 
would not give the sanction of their pres- 
ence to any undertaking of the French 
Government, and called attention again 
and again to their absence from the ex- 
hibition. I myself was asked a number 
of times in England whether this absence 
were a noticeable thing ; but truth com- 
pelled me to admit that it was not With 
Paris brimming over like a cup filled to 
the lip, with streets and fair-grounds 
thronged, with every hotel crowded and 
every cab engaged, and with twenty 
thousand of my own countrymen clam- 
orously enlivening the scene, it was not 
possible to miss anybody anywhere. 

134 



The Estranging Sea 

It obviously had not occurred to Amer- 
icans to see any connection between 
the trial of Captain Dreyfus and their 
enjoyment of the most beautiful and 
brilliant thing that Europe had to give. 
The pretty adage, " Tout homme a deux 
pays : le sien et puis la France ^^ is truer 
of us than of any other people in the 
world. And we may as well pardon a 
nation her transgressions, if we cannot 
keep away from her shores. 

England's public utterances anent the 
United States are of the friendliest char- 
acter. Her newspapers and magazines 
say flattering things about us. Her poet- 
laureate — unlike his great predecessor 
who unaffectedly detested us — began 
his official career by praising us with 
such fervour that we felt we ought in 
common honesty to tell him that we were 
nothing like so good as he thought us. 
An English text-book, published a few 
years ago, explains generously to the 
school-boys of Great Britain that the 

135 



Americans and Others 

United States should not be looked upon 
as a foreign nation. " They are peopled 
by men of our blood and faith, enjoy in a 
great measure the same laws that we do, 
read the same Bible, and acknowledge, 
like us, the rule of King Shakespeare." 
All this is very pleasant, but the fact re- 
mains that Englishmen express surprise 
and pain at our most innocent idiosyn- 
crasies. They correct our pronunciation 
and our misuse of words. They regret our 
nomadic habits, our shrill voices, our 
troublesome children, our inability to 
climb mountains or " do a little glacier 
work" (it sounds like embroidery, but 
means scrambling perilously over ice), 
our taste for unwholesome — or, in other 
words, seasoned — food. When I am 
reproved by English acquaintances for 
the " Americanisms " which disfigure my 
speech and proclaim my nationality, I 
cannot well defend myself by asserting 
that I read the same Bible as they do, — 
for maybe, after all, I don't 

136 



i 



The Estranging Sea 

The tenacity with which English resi-^ 
dents on the Continent cling to the cus- 
toms and traditions of their own country 
is pathetic in its loyalty and in its mis- 
conceptions. Their scheme of life does 
not permit a single foreign observance, 
their range of sympathies seldom in- 
cludes a single foreign ideal. " An Eng- 
lishman's happiness/* says M. Taine, 
" consists in being at home at six in the 
evening, with a pleasing, attached wife, 
four or five children, and respectful do- 
mestics." This is a very good notion of 
happiness, no fault can be found with it, 
and something on the same order, though 
less perfect in detail, is highly prized and 
commended in America. But it does not 
embrace every avenue of delight. The 
Frenchman who seems never to go home, 
who seldom has a large family, whose 
wife is often his business partner and 
helpmate, and whose servants are friendly 
allies rather than automatic menials, en- 
joys life also, and with some degree of 

137 



Americans and Others 

intelligence. He may be pardoned for 
resenting the attitude of English exiles, 
who, driven from their own country by 
the harshness of the climate, or the cruel 
cost of living, never cease to deplore the 
unaccountable foreignness of foreigners. 
"Our social tariff amounts to prohibi- 
tion," said a witty Englishman in France. 
" Exchange of ideas takes place only at 
the extreme point of necessity." 

It is not under such conditions that 
any nation gives its best to strangers. It 
is not to the affronted soul that the charm 
of the unfamiliar makes its sweet and 
powerful appeal. Lord Byron was furious 
when one of his countrywomen called 
Chamonix "rural"; yet, after all, the 
poor creature was giving the scenery 
what praise she imderstood. The Eng- 
lishman who complained that he could 
not look out of his window in Rome with- 
out seeing the sun, had a legitimate griev- 
ance (we all know what it is to sigh for 
grey skies, and for the unutterable rest 

138 



The Estranging Sea 

they bring) ; but if we want Rome, we 
must take her sunshine, along with her 
beggars and her Church. Accepted sym- 
pathetically, they need not mar our in- 
finite content. 

There is a wonderful sentence in Mrs. 
Humphry Ward's ** Marriage of William 
Ashe," which subtly and strongly pro- 
tests against the blight of mental isola- 
tion. Lady Kitty Bristol is reciting Cor- 
neille in Lady Grosville's drawing-room. 
"Her audience," says Mrs. Ward, 
"looked on at first with the embarrassed 
or hostile air which is the Englishman's 
natural protection against the great 
things of art." To write a sentence at 
once so caustic and so flawless is to tri- 
umph over the limitations of language. 
The reproach seems a strange one to 
hurl at a nation which has produced the 
noblest literature of the world since the 
light of Greece waned ; but we must re- 
member that distinction of mind, as Mrs. 
Ward understands it, and as it was un- 

139 



Americans and Others 

derstood by Mr. Arnold, is necessarily 
allied with a knowledge of French arts 
and letters, and with some insight into 
the qualities which clarify French con- 
versation. " Divine provincialism " had 
no halo for the man who wrote " Friend- 
ship's Garland." He regarded it with an 
impatience akin to mistrust, and border- 
ing upon fear. Perhaps the final word was 
spoken long ago by a writer whose place 
in literature is so high that few aspire to 
read him. England was severing her 
sympathies sharply from much which 
she had held in common with the rest of 
Europe, when Dryden wrote: "They 
who would combat general authority 
with particular opinion must first estab- 
blish themselves a reputation of under- 
standing better than other men." 



Travellers' Tales 

'* Wenten forth in heore wej with mony wyse tales, 
And hedden leve to lyen al heore lyf aftir." 

Piers Plowman, 

I DON'T know about travellers' " hed- 
den leve" to lie, but that they 
"taken leve" no one can doubt 
who has ever followed their wandering 
footsteps. They say the most charming 
and audacious things, in blessed indif- 
ference to the fact that somebody may 
possibly believe them. They start strange 
hopes and longings in the human heart, 
and they pave the way for disappoint- 
ments and disasters. They record the 
impression of a careless hour as though 
it were the experience of a lifetime. 

There is a delightful little book on 
French rivers, written some years ago by 
a vivacious and highly imaginative gen- 

141 



Americans and Others 

tleman named MoUoy. It is a rose-tinted 
volume from the first page to the last, so 
full of gay adventures that it would lure 
a mollusc from his shell. Every town and 
every village yields some fresh delight, 
some humorous exploit to the four oars- 
men who risk their lives to see it ; but 
the few pages devoted to Amboise are 
of a dulcet and irresistible persuasive- 
ness. They fill the reader's soul with a 
haunting desire to lay down his well- 
worn cares and pleasures, to say good- 
bye to home and kindred, and to seek 
that favoured spot. Touraine is full of 
beauty, and steeped to the lips in his- 
toric crimes. Turn where we may, her 
fairness charms the eye, her memories 
stfr the heart. But Mr. Molloy claims for 
Amboise something rarer in France than 
loveliness or romance, something which 
no French town has ever yet been known 
to possess, — a slumberous and soul-satis- 
fying silence. " We dropped under the 
very walls of the Castie," he writes, 

142 



Travellers' Tales 

*' without seeing a soul. It was a strange 
contrast to Blois in its absolute stillness. 
There was no sound but the noise of 
waters rushing through the arches of the 
bridge. It might have been the palace 
of the Sleeping Beauty, but was only one 
of the retrospective cities that had no 
concern with the present." 

Quiet brooded over the ivied towers 
and ancient water front. Tranquillity, 
unconcern, a gentle and courteous aloof- 
ness surrounded and soothed the intre- 
pid travellers. When, in the early morn- 
ing, the crew pushed off in their frail 
boat, less than a dozen citizens assembled 
to watch the start. Even the peril of the 
performance (and there are few things 
more likely to draw a crowd than the 
chance of seeing four fellow mortals 
drown) failed to awaken curiosity. Nine 
men stood silent on the shore when the 
outrigger shot into the swirling river, 
and it is the opinion of the chronicler 
that Amboise "did not often witness 

143 



Americans and Others 

such a gathering." Nine quiet men were, 
for Amboise, something in the nature of 
a mob. 

It must be remembered that Mr. Mol- 
loy's book is not a new one ; but then 
Touraine is neither new nor mutable. 
Nothing changes in its beautiful old 
towns, the page of whose history has 
been turned for centuries. What if mo- 
tors now whirl in a white dust through the 
heart of France ? They do not affect the 
lives of the villages through which they 
pass. The simple and primitive desire of 
the motorist is to be fed and to move on, 
to be fed again and to move on again, 
to sleep and to start afresh. That un- 
avoidable waiting between trains which 
now and then compelled an old-time 
tourist to look at a cathedral or a cha- 
teau, by way of diverting an empty hour, 
no longer retards progress. The motor- 
ist needs never wait As soon as he has 
eaten, he can go, — a privilege of which 
he gladly avails himself. A month at 

144 



Travellers' Tales 

Amboise taught us that, at the feeding- 
hour, motors came flocking like fowls, 
and then, like fowls, dispersed. They 
were disagreeable while they lasted, but 
they never lasted long. Replete with a 
five-course luncheon, their fagged and 
grimy occupants sped on to distant towns 
and dinner. 

But why should we, who knew well 
that there is not, and never has been, a 
quiet corner in all France, have listened 
to a traveller's tale, and believed in a 
silent Amboise ? Is there no limit to hu- 
man credulity? Does experience count 
for nothing in the Bourbon-like policy of 
our lives ? It is to England we must go if 
we seek for silence, that gentle, pervas- 

• 

ive silence which wraps us in a mantle 
of content. It was in Porlock that Cole- 
ridge wrote ** Kubla Khan," transported, 
Heaven knows whither, by virtue of 
the hushed repose that consecrates the 
sleepiest hamlet in Great Britain. It was 
at Stoke Pogis that Gray composed 

145 



Americans and Others 

his " Elegy." He could never have writ- 
ten — 

** And all the air a solemn stillness holds," 

in the vicinity of a French village. 

But Amboise I Who would go to rural 
England, live on ham and eggs, and 
sleep in a bed harder than Pharaoh's 
heart, if it were possible that a silent 
Amboise awaited him? The fair fresh 
vegetables of France, her ripe red straw- 
berries and glowing cherries, her crisp 
salads and her caressing mattresses lured 
us no less than the vision of a blood- 
stained castle, and the wide sweep of the 
Loire flashing through the joyous land- 
scape of Touraine. In the matter of 
beauty, Amboise outstrips all praise. In 
the matter of romance, she leaves no- 
thing to be desired. Her splendid old 
Chateau — half palace and half fortress 
— towers over the river which mirrors its 
glory and perpetuates its shame. She is 
a storehouse of historic memories, she is 

146 



Travellers' Tales 

the loveliest of little towns, she is in the 
heart of a district which bears the finest 
fruit and has the best cooks in France ; 
but she is not, and never has been, silent, 
since the days when Louis the Eleventh 
was crowned, and she gave wine freely 
to all who chose to be drunk and merry 
at her charge. 

If she does not give her wine to-day, 
she sells it so cheaply — lying girt by 
vine-clad hills — that many of her sons 
are drunk and merry still. The sociable 
habit of setting a table in the open street 
prevails at Amboise. Around it labour- 
ers take their evening meal, to the accom- 
paniment of song and sunburnt mirth. It 
sounds poetic and it looks picturesque, 
— like a picture by Teniers or Jan Steen, 
— but it is not a habit conducive to re- 
pose. 

As far as I can judge, — after a month's 
experience, — the one thing no inhabit- 
ant of Amboise ever does is to go to 
bed. At midnight the river front is alive 

147 



Americans and Others 

with cheerful and strident voices. The 
French countryman habitually speaks to 
his neighbour as if he were half a mile 
away ; and when a score of countrymen 
are conversing in this key, the air rings 
with their clamour. They sing in the 
same lusty fashion ; not through closed 
lips, as is the custom of English singers, 
but rolling out the notes with volcanic 
energy from the deep craters of their 
throats. When our admirable waiter— 
who is also our best friend — frees his 
soul in song as he is setting the table, 
the walls of the dining-room quiver and 
vibrate. By five o'clock in the morning 
every one except ourselves is on foot and 
out of doors. We might as well be, for 
it is custom, not sleep, which keeps us in 
our beds. The hay wagons are rolling 
over the bridge, the farmhands are going 
to work, the waiter, in an easy undress, 
is exchanging voluble greetings with his 
many acquaintances, the life of the town 
has begun. 

148 



Travellers' Tales 

The ordinary week-day life, I mean, 
for on Sundays the market people have 
assembled by four, and there are nights 
when the noises never cease. It is no un- 
usual thing to be awakened, an hour or 
two after midnight, by a tumult so loud 
and deep that my first impression is one 
of conspiracy or revolution. The sound 
is not unlike the hoarse roar of Sir Henry 
Irving's admirably trained mobs, — the 
only mobs I have ever heard, — and I 
jump out of bed, wondering if the Pre- 
sident has been shot, or the Chamber of 
Deputies blown up by malcontents. Can 
these country people have heard the 
news, as the shepherds of Peloponnesus 
heard of the fall of Syracuse, through the 
gossiping of wood devils, and, like the 
shepherds, have hastened to carry the in- 
telligence ? When I look out of my win- 
dow, the crowd seems small for the up- 
roar it is making. Armand, the waiter, 
who, I am convinced, merely dozes on a 
dining-room chair, so as to be in readi- 

149 



Americans and Others 

ness for any diversion, stands in the mid- 
dle of the road, gesticulating with fine 
dramatic gestures. I cannot hear what is 
being said, because everybody is speak- 
ing at once ; but after a while the excite- 
ment dies away, and the group slowly 
disperses, shouting final vociferations 
from out of the surrounding darkness. 
The next day when I ask the cause of 
the disturbance, Armand looks puzzled 
at my question. He does not seem aware 
that anjrthing out of the way has hap- 
pened ; but finally explains that " quel- 
ques amis " were passing the hotel, and 
that Madame must have heard them stop 
and talk. The incident is apparently too 
common an occurrence to linger in his 
mind. 

As for the Amboise dogs, I do not 
know whether they really possess a sup- 
ernatural strength which enables them 
to bark twenty-four hours without inter- 
mission, or whether they divide them- 
selves into day and night pickets, so that, 

150 



Travellers' Tales 

when one band retires to rest, the other 
takes up the interrupted duty. The 
French villager, who values all domestic 
pets in proportion to the noise they can 
make, delights especially in his dogs, 
giant black-and-tan terriers for the most 
part, of indefatigable perseverance in 
their one line of activity. Their bark is 
high-pitched and querulous rather than 
deep and defiant, but for continuity it 
has no rival upon earth. Our hotel — in 
all other respects unexceptionable — pos- 
sesses two large bulldogs which have 
long ago lost their British phlegm, and 
acquired the agitated yelp of their Gallic 
neighbours. They could not be quiet if 
they wanted to, for heavy sleigh-bells 
(unique decorations for a bulldog) hang 
about their necks, and jangle merrily at 
every step. In the courtyard lives a col- 
ony of birds. One virulent parrot which 
shrieks its inarticulate wrath from morn- 
ing until night, but which does — be it 
remembered to its credit— go to sleep at 

151 



Americans and Others 

sundown ; three paroquets ; two cocka- 
toos of ineffable shrillness, and a cagehii 
of canaries and captive finches. When 
taken in connection with the dogs, the 
hotel cat, the operatic Armand, and the 
cook who plays " See, O Norma 1 " on 
his flute every afternoon and evening, it 
will be seen that Amboise does not so 
closely resemble the palace of the Sleep- 
ing Beauty as Mr. MoUoy has given us 
to understand. 

All other sounds, however, melt into a 
harmonious murmur when compared to 
the one great speciality of the village, — 
stone-cutting in the open streets. When- 
ever one of the picturesque old houses is 
crumbling into utter decay, a pile of stone 
is dumped before it, and the easy-going 
masons of Amboise prepare to patch up 
its walls. No particular method is ob- 
served, the work progresses after the 
fashion of a child's block house, and the 
principal labour lies in dividing the lumps 
of stone. This is done with a rusty old 

152 



Travellers' Tales 

saw pulled slowly backward and forward 
by two men, the sound produced resem- 
bling a succession of agonized shrieks. 
It goes on for hours and hours, with no 
apparent result except the noise ; while 
a handsome boy, in a striped blouse and 
broad blue sash, completes the discord 
by currying the stone with an iron curry- 
comb, — a process I have never witnessed 
before, and ardently hope never to wit- 
ness again. If one could imagine fifty 
school-children all squeaking their slate 
pencils down their slates together, — who 
does not remember that blood-curdling 
music of his youth? — one might gain 
some feeble notion of the acute agony 
induced by such an instrument of tor- 
ture. Agony to the nervous visitor alone ; 
for the inhabitants of Amboise love their 
shrieking saws and currycombs, just as 
they love their shrieking parrots and 
cockatoos. They gather in happy crowds 
to watch the blue-sashed boy, and drink 
in the noise he makes. We drink it in, 

153 



Americans and Others 

too, as he is immediately beneath otir 
windows. Then we look at the castle 
walls glowing in the splendour of the 
sunset, and at the Loire sweeping in 
magnificent curves between the grey- 
green poplar trees ; at the noble width of 
the horizon, and at the deepening tints of 
the sky ; and we realize that a silent Am- 
boise would be an earthly Paradise, too 
fair for this sinful world. 



The Chill of Enthusiasm 

** Surtout, pas de zile." — Tallsyrand. 

THERE is no aloofness so forlorn 
as our aloofness from an un- 
contagious enthusiasm, and 
there is no hostility so sharp as that 
aroused by a fervour which fails of re- 
sponse. Charles Lamb's " D — n him at 
a hazard/' was the expression of a nat- 
ural and reasonable frame of mind with 
which we are all familiar, and which, 
though admittedly unlovely, is in the na- 
ture of a safeguard. If we had no spirit- 
ual asbestos to protect our souls, we 
should be consumed to no purpose by 
every wanton flame. If our sincere and 
restful indifference to things which con- 
cern us not were shaken by every blast, 
we should have no available force for 

X55 



Americans and Others 

things which concern us deeply. If elo- 
quence did not sometimes make us yawn, 
we should be besotted by oratory. And 
if we did not approach new acquaint- 
ances, new authors, and new points of 
view with life-saving reluctance, we 
should never feel that vital regard which, 
being strong enough to break down our 
barriers, is strong enough to hold us for 
life. 

The worth of admiration is, after all, 
in proportion to the value of the thing 
admired, — a circumstance overlooked by 
the people who talk much pleasant non- 
sense about sympathy, and the courage 
of our emotions, and the open and gen- 
erous mind. We know how Mr. Arnold 
felt when an American lady wrote to 
him, in praise of American authors, and 
said that it rejoiced her heart to think of 
such excellence as being " common and 
abundant." Mr. Arnold, who considered 
that excellence of any kind was very un- 
common and beyond measure rare, ex- 

156 



The Chill of Enthusiasm 

pressed his views on this occasion with 
more fervour and publicity than the cir- 
cumstances demanded; but his words 
are as balm to the irritation which some 
of us suffer and conceal when drained of 
our reluctant applause. 

It is perhaps because women have been 
trained to a receptive attitude of mind, 
because for centuries they have been 
valued for their sympathy and apprecia- 
tion rather than for their judgment, that 
they are so perilously prone to enthusi- 
asm. It has come to all of us of late to 
hear much feminine eloquence, and to 
marvel at the nimbleness of woman's wit, 
at the speed with which she thinks, and 
the facility with which she expresses her 
thoughts. A woman who, until five years 
ago, never addressed a larger audience 
than that afforded by a reading-club or 
a dinner-party, will now thrust and parry 
on a platform, wholly unembarrassed by 
timidity or by ignorance. Sentiment and 
satire are hers to command ; and while 

157 



Americans and Others 

neither is convincing, both are tremen- 
dously effective with people already con- 
vinced, with the partisans who throng 
unwearyingly to hear the voicing of their 
own opinions. The ease with which such 
a speaker brings forward the great cen- 
tral fact of the universe, maternity, as 
an argument for or against the casting 
of a ballot (it works just as well either 
way) ; the glow with which she associ- 
ates Jeanne d*Arc with federated clubs 
and social service; and the gay defi- 
ance she hurls at customs and preju- 
dices so profoundly obsolete that the 
lantern of Diogenes could not find them 
lurking in a village street, — these things 
may chill the unemotional listener into 
apathy, but they never fail to awaken the 
sensibilities of an audience. The simple 
process, so highly commended by de- 
baters, of ignoring all that cannot be 
denied, makes demonstration easy. " A 
crowd," said Mr. Ruskin, " thinks by in- 
fection." To be immune from infection is 

158 



The Chill of Enthusiasm 

to stand outside the sacred circle of en- 
thusiasts. 

Yet if the experience of mankind 
teaches anything, it is that vital convic- 
tions are not at the mercy of eloquence. 
The " oratory of conviction," to borrow 
a phrase of Mr. Bagehot's, is so rare as 
to be hardly worth taking into account. 
Fox used to say that if a speech read 
well, it was "a damned bad speech," 
which is the final word of cynicism, 
spoken by one who knew. It was the sav- 
ing sense of England, that solid, prosaic, 
dependable common sense, the bulwark 
of every great nation, which, after Sheri- 
dan's famous speech, demanding the im- 
peachment of Warren Hastings, made 
the House adjourn "to collect its rea- 
son," — obviously because its reason 
had been lost. Sir William Dolden, who 
moved the adjournment, frankly con- 
fessed that it was impossible to give a 
"determinate opinion" while under the 
spell of oratory. So the lawmakers, who 

159 



Americans and Others 

had been fired to white heat, reth-ed to 
cool down again ; and when Sheridan — 
always as deep in difficulties as Micawber 
— was offered a thousand pounds for the 
manuscript of the speech, he remembered 
Fox's verdict, and refused to risk his un- 
ballasted eloquence in print. 

Enthusiasm is praised because it im- 
plies an unselfish concern for something 
outside our personal interest and ad- 
vancement. It is reverenced because the 
great and wise amendments, which from 
time to time straighten the roads we walk, 
may always be traced back to somebody's 
zeal for reform. It is rich in prophetic 
attributes, banking largely on the un- 
known, and making up in nobility of de- 
sign what it lacks in excellence of attain- 
ment. Like simplicity, and candour, and 
other much-commended qualities, enthu- 
siasm is charming until we meet it face 
to face, and cannot escape from its charm. 
It is then that we begin to understand 
the attitude of Goethe, and Talleyrand, 

i6o 



The Chill of Enthusiasm 

and Pitt, and Sir Robert Peel, who saved 
themselves from being consumed by res- 
olutely refusing to ignite. " It is folly," 
observed Goethe, " to expect that other 
men will consent to believe as we do " ; 
and, having reconciled himself to this el- 
emental obstinacy of the human heart, it 
no longer troubled him that those whom 
he felt to be wrong should refuse to ac- 
knowledge their errors. 

There are men and women — not many 
— who have the happy art of making 
their most fervent convictions endurable. 
Their hobbies do not spread desolation 
over the social world, their prejudices do 
not insult our intelligence. They may be 
so "abreast with the times " that we can- 
not keep track of them, or they may be 
basking serenely in some Early Victo- 
rian close. They may believe buoyantly 
in the Baconian cipher, or in thought 
transference, or in the serious purposes 
of Mr. George Bernard Shaw, or in any- 
thing else which invites credulity. They 

i6i 



Americans and Others 

may even express their views, and still 
be loved and cherished by their friends. 
How illuminating is the contrast which 
Hazlitt unconsciously draws between the 
enthusiasms of Lamb which everybody 
was able to bear, and the enthusiasms of 
Coleridge which nobody was able to bear. 
Lamb would parade his admiration for 
some favourite author, Donne, for exam- 
ple, whom the rest of the company pro- 
bably abhorred. He would select the 
most crabbed passages to quote and de- 
fend ; he would stammer out his piquant 
and masterful half sentences, his scald- 
ing jests, his controvertible assertions ; 
he would skilfully hint at the defects 
which no one else was permitted to see ; 
and if he made no converts (wanting 
none), he woke no weary wrath. But we 
all have a sneaking sympathy for Hol- 
croft, who, when Coleridge was expatiat- 
ing rapturously and oppressively upon 
the glories of German transcendental 
philosophy, and upon his own supreme 

162 



The Chill of Enthusiasm 

command of the field, cried out suddenly 
and with exceeding bitterness: "Mr. 
Coleridge, you are the most eloquent 
man I ever met, and the most unbear- 
able in your eloquence/' 

I am not without a lurking suspicion 
that George Borrow must have been at 
times unbearable in his eloquence. " We 
cannot refuse to meet a man on the 
ground that he is an enthusiast," ob- 
serves Mr. George Street, obviously la- 
menting this circumstance; "but we 
should at least like to make sure that his 
enthusiasms are under control." Sor- 
row's enthusiasms were never under con- 
trol. He stood ready at a moment's no- 
tice to prove the superiority of the Welsh 
bards over the paltry poets of England, 
or to relate the marvellous Welsh pro- 
phecies, so vague as to be always safe. 
He was capable of inflicting Armenian 
verbs upon Isopel Berners when they sat 
at night over their gipsy kettle in the din- 
gle (let us hope she fell asleep as sweetly 

163 



Americans and Others 

as does Milton's Eve when Adam grows 
too garrulous); and he met the com- 
plaints of a poor farmer on the hardness 
of the times with jubilant praises of evan- 
gelicalism. " Better pay three pounds an 
acre, and live on crusts and water in the 
present enlightened days/' he told the 
disheartened husbandman, ''than pay 
two shillings an acre, and sit down to 
beef and ale three times a day in the old 
superstitious ages." This is not the ora- 
tory of conviction. There are unreason- 
ing prejudices in favour of one's own 
stomach which eloquence cannot gain- 
say. " I defy the utmost power of lan- 
guage to disgust me wi' a gude denner," 
observes the Ettrick Shepherd ; thus put- 
ting on record the attitude of the bu- 
colic mind, impassive, immutable, since 
earth's first harvests were gleaned. 

The artificial emotions which expand 
under provocation, and collapse when the 
provocation is withdrawn, must be held 
responsible for much mental confusion. 

164 



The Chill of Enthusiasm 

Election oratory is an old and cherished 
institution. It is designed to make candi- 
dates show their paces, and to give inno- 
cent amusement to the crowd. Properly 
reinforced by brass bands and bunting, 
graced by some sufi&cientiy august pres- 
ence, and enlivened by plenty of cheering 
and hat-flourishing, it presents a strong 
appeal. A political party is, moreover, a 
solid and self-sustaining affair. All sound 
and alliterative generalities about virile 
and vigorous manhood, honest and hon- 
ourable labour, great and glorious causes, 
are understood, in this country at least, 
to refer to the virile and vigorous man- 
hood of Republicans or Democrats, as the 
case may be ; and to uphold the honest 
and honourable, great and glorious Re- 
publican or Democratic principles, upon 
which, it is also understood, depends the 
welfare of the nation. 

Yet even this sense of security cannot 
always save us from the chill of collapsed 
enthusiasm. I was once at a great mass 

165 



Americans and Others 

meeting, held in the interests of munici- 
pal reform, and at which the principal 
speaker was a candidate for oflEice. He 
was delayed for a full hour after the 
meeting had been opened, and this hour 
was filled with good platform oratory. 
Speechmaker after speechmaker, all 
adepts in their art, laid bare before our 
eyes the evils which consumed us, and 
called upon us passionately to support 
the candidate who would lift us from our 
shame. The fervour of the house rose 
higher and higher. Martial music stirred 
our blood, and made us feel that reform 
and patriotism were one. The atmosphere 
grew tense with expectancy, when sud- 
denly there came a great shout, and the 
sound of cheering from the crowd in the 
streets, the crowd which could not force 
its way into the huge and closely packed 
opera house. Now there are few things 
more profoundly affecting than cheers 
heard from a distance, or muffled by in- 
tervening walls. They have a fine dra- 

i66 



The Chill of Enthusiasm 

matic quality, unknown to the cheers 
which rend the air about us. When the 
chairman of the meeting announced that 
the candidate was outside the doors, 
speaking to the mob, the excitement 
reached fever heat. When some one 
cried, " He is here ! " and the orchestra 
struck the first bars of ** Hail Columbia," 
we rose to our feet, waving multitudinous 
flags, and shouting out the rapture of our 
hearts. 

And then, — and then there stepped 
upon the stage a plain, tired, bewildered 
man, betraying nervous exhaustion in 
every line. He spoke, and his voice 
was not the assured voice of a leader. 
His words were not the happy words 
which instandy command attention. It 
was evident to the discerning eye that 
he had been driven for days, perhaps 
for weeks, beyond his strength and en- 
durance ; that he had resorted to stim- 
ulants to help him in this emergency, 
and that they had failed; that he was 

167 



Americans and Others 

striving with feeble desperation to do the 
impossible which was expected of him. I 
wondered even then if a few common 
words of explanation, a few sober words 
of promise, would not have satisfied the 
crowd, already sated with eloquence. I 
wondered if the unfortunate man could 
feel the chill setding down upon the 
house as he spoke his random and un-. 
dignified sentences, whether he could see 
the first stragglers slipping down the 
aisles. What did his decent record, his 
honest purpose, avail him in an hour like 
this ? He tried to lash himself to vigour, 
but it was spurring a broken-winded 
horse. The stragglers increased into a 
flying squadron, the house was emptying 
fast, when the chairman in sheer desper- 
ation made a sign to the leader of the 
orchestra, who waved his baton, and "The 
Star-Spangled Banner" drowned the can- 
didate's last words, and brought what 
was left of the audience to its feet. I 
turned to a friend beside me, the wife of 

i68 



The Chill of Enthusiasm 

a local politician who had been the most 
fiery speaker of the evening. " Will it 
make any difference ? " I asked, and she 
answered disconsolately; "The city is 
lost, but we may save the state.*' 

Then we went out into the quiet 
streets, and I bethought me of Voltaire's 
driving in a blue coach powdered with 
gilt stars to see the first production of 
" Ir^ne," and of his leaving the theatre 
to find that enthusiasts had cut the traces 
of his horses, so that the shouting mob 
might drag him home in triumph. But 
the mob, having done its shouting, melted 
away after the irresponsible fashion of 
mobs, leaving the blue coach stranded 
in front of the Tuileries, with Voltaire 
shivering inside of it, until the horses 
could be brought back, the traces patched 
up, and the driver recalled to his duty. 

That "popular enthusiasm is but a 
fire of straw " has been amply demon- 
strated by all who have tried to keep it 
going. It can be lighted to some pur- 

169 



Americans and Others 

pose, as when money is extracted from 
the enthusiasts before they have had 
time to cool ; but even this process — so 
skilfully conducted by the initiated — 
seems unworthy of great and noble char- 
ities, or of great and noble causes. It is 
true also that the agitator — no matter 
what he may be agitating — is always 
sure of his market; a circumstance which 
made that most conservative of chancel- 
lors, Lord Eldon, swear with bitter oaths 
that, if he were to begin life over again, 
he would begin it as an agitator. Tom 
Moore tells a pleasant story (one of the 
many pleasant stories embalmed in his 
vast sarcophagus of a diary) about a 
street orator whom he heard address a 
crowd in Dublin. The man's eloquence 
was so stirring that Moore was ravished 
by it, and he expressed to Shell his ad- 
miration for the speaker. "Ah,'* said 
Shell carelessly, "that was a brewer's 
patriot. Most of the great brewers have 
in their employ a regular patriot who 

170 



The Chill of Enthusiasm 

goes about among the publicans, talking 
violent politics, which helps to sell the 
beer." 

Honest enthusiasm, we are often told, is 
the power which moves the world. There- 
fore it is perhaps that honest enthusiasts 
seem to think that if they stopped push- 
ing, the world would stop moving, — as 
though it were a new world which did n't 
know its way. This belief inclines them 
to intolerance. The more keen they are, 
the more contemptuous they become. 
What Wordsworth admirably called 
" the self-applauding sincerity of a heated 
mind" leaves them no loophole for doubt, 
and no understanding of the doubter. In 
their volcanic progress they bowl over 
the non-partisan — a man and a brother 
— with splendid unconcern. He, poor 
soul, stunned but not convinced, clings 
desperately to some pettifogging con- 
victions which he calls truth, and refuses 
a clearer vision. His habit of remember- 
ing what he believed yesterday clogs his 

171 



Americans and Others 

mind, and makes it hard for him to 
believe something entirely new to-day. 
Much has been said about the incon- 
venience of keeping opinions, but much 
might be said about the serenity of the 
process. Old opinions are like old friends, 
— we cease to question their worth be- 
cause, after years of intimacy and the 
loss of some valuable illusions, we have 
grown to place our slow reliance on them. 
We know at least where we stand, and 
whither we are tending, and we refuse 
to bustle feverishly about the circumfer- 
ence of life, because, as Amiel warns us, 
we cannot reach its core. 



The Temptation of Eve 

" My Love in her attire doth shew her wit." 

IT is an old and honoured jest that 
Eve — type of eternal womanhood 
— sacrified the peace of Eden for 
the pleasures of dress. We see this jest 
reflected in the satire of the Middle Ages, 
in the bitter gibes of mummer and buf- 
foon. We can hear its echoes in the in- 
vectives of the reformer, — "I doubt," 
said a good fifteenth-century bishop to 
the ladies of England in their homed 
caps, — "I doubt the Devil sit not be- 
tween those horns." We find it illustrated 
with admirable naivetfe in the tapestries 
which hang in the entrance corridor of 
the Belle Arti in Florence. 

These tapestries tell the downfall of our 
first parents. In one we see the newly cre- 
ated and lovely Eve standing by the side 

173 



Americans and Others 

of the sleeping Adam, and regarding him 
with pleasurable anticipation. Another 
shows us the animals marching in line to 
be inspected and named. The snail heads 
the procession and sets the pace. The lion 
and the tiger stroll gossiping together. 
The unicorn walks alone, very stiff and 
proud. Two rats and two mice are closely 
followed by two sleek cats, who keep 
them well covered, and plainly await the 
time when Eve's amiable indiscretion 
shall assign them their natural prey. In 
the third tapestry the deed has been done, 
the apple had been eaten. The beasts are 
ravening in the background. Adam, al- 
ready clad, is engaged in fastening a pic- 
turesque girdle of leaves around the un- 
repentant Eve, — for all the world like 
a modem husband fastening his wife's 
gown, — while she for the first time gath- 
ers up her long fair hair. Her attitude 
is full of innocent yet indescribable co- 
quetry. The passion for self-adornment 
had already taken possession of her soul 

174 



The Temptation of Eve 

Before her lies a future of many cares 
and some compensations. She is going to 
work and she is going to weep, but she 
is also going to dress. The price was 
hers to pay. 

In the hearts of Eve's daughters lies 
an unspoken convincement that the 
price was not too dear. As far as fem- 
inity is known, or can ever be known, one 
dominant impulse has never wavered or 
weakened. In every period of the world's 
history, in every quarter of the globe, in 
every stage of savagery or civilization, 
this elementary instinct has held, and 
still holds good. The history of the world 
is largely the history of dress. It is the 
most illuminating of records, and tells its 
tale with a candour and completeness 
which no chronicle can surpass. We all 
agree in saying that people who reached 
a high stage of artistic development, like 
the Greeks and the Italians of the Renais- 
sance, expressed this sense of perfection 
in their attire ; but what we do not ac- 

175 



Americans and Others 

knowledge so frankly is that these same 
nations encouraged the beauty of dress, 
even at a ruthless cost, because they felt 
that in doing so they cooperated with a 
great natural law, — the law which makes 
the "wanton lapwing" get himself an- 
other crest. They played into nature's 
hands. 

The nations which sought to bully 
natiu"e, like the Spartans and the Span- 
iards, passed the severest sumptuary 
laws ; and for proving the power of fun- 
damental forces over the unprofitable 
wisdom of reformers, there is nothing 
like a sumptuary law. In 1563 Spanish 
women of good repute were forbidden to 
wear jewels or embroideries, — the result 
being that many preferred to be thought 
reputationless, rather than abandon their 
finery. Some years later it was ordained 
that only women of loose life should be 
permitted to bare their shoulders ; and 
all dressmakers who furnished the inter- 
dicted gowns to others than courtesans 

176 



The Temptation of Eve 

were condemned to four years' penal 
servitude. These were stem measures, 
— " root and branch " was ever the Span- 
iard's cry; but he found it easier to 
stamp out heresy than to eradicate from 
a woman's heart something which is 
called vanity, but which is, in truth, an 
overmastering impulse which she is too 
wise to endeavour to resist. 

As a matter of fact it was a sumptuary 
law which incited the women of Rome to 
make their first great public demonstra- 
tion, and to besiege the Forum as belliger- 
endy as the women of England have, 
in late years, besieged Parliament. The 
Senate had thought fit to save money 
for the second Punic War by curtailing 
all extravagance in dress ; and, when the 
war was over, showed no disposition to 
•repeal a statute which — to the simple 
masculine mind — seemed productive of 
nothing but good. Therefore the women 
gathered in the streets of Rome, demand- 
ing the restitution of their ornaments, 

177 



Americans and Others 

and deeply scandalizing poor Cato, who 
could hardly wedge his way through the 
crowd. His views on this occasion were 
expressed with the bewildered bitterness 
of a modem British conservative. He 
sighed for the good old days when women 
were under the strict control of their fa- 
thers and husbands, and he very plainly 
told the Senators that if they had main- 
tained their proper authority at home, 
their wives and daughters would not then 
be misbehaving themselves in public. 
" It was not without painful emotions of 
shame," said this outraged Roman gen- 
tleman, " that I just now made my way 
to the Forum through a herd of women. 
Our ancestors thought it improper that 
women should transact any private bus- 
iness without a director. We, it seems, 
suffer them to interfere in the manage- 
ment of state affairs, and to intrude into 
the general assemblies. Had I not been 
restrained by the modesty and dignity 
of some among them, had I not been un- 

178 



The Temptation of Eve 

willing that they should be rebuked by 
a Consul, I should have said to them : 
' What sort of practice is this of running 
into the streets, and addressing other 
women's husbands ? Could you not have 
petitioned at home ? Are your blandish- 
ments more seductive in public than in 
private, and with other husbands than 
your own ? * " 

How natural it all sounds, how mod- 
ern, how familiar 1 And with what know- 
ledge of the immutable laws of nature, 
as opposed to the capricious laws of man, 
did Lucius Valerius defend the rebellious 
women of Rome! ** Elegance of ap- 
parel," he pleaded before the Senate, 
**and jewels, and ornaments, — these are 
a woman's badges of distinction ; in these 
she glories and delights ; these our an- 
cestors called the woman's world. What 
else does she lay aside in mourning save 
her purple and gold? What else does 
she resume when the mourning is over ? 
How does she manifest her sympathy on 

179 



Americans and Others 

occasions of public rejoicing, but by add- 
ing to the splendour of her dress?" ' 

Of course the statute was repealed. 
The only sumptuary laws which defied 
resistance were those which draped the 
Venetian gondolas and the Milanese 
priests in black, and with such restric- 
tions women had no concern. 

The symbolism of dress is a subject 
which has never received its due share 
of attention, yet it stands for attributes 
in the human race which otherwise defy 
analysis. It is interwoven with all our 
carnal and with all our spiritual instincts. 
It represents a cunning triumph over 
hard conditions, a turning of needs into 
victories. It voices desires and dignities 
without number, it subjects the import- 
ance of the thing done to the importance 
of the manner of doing it " Man wears 
a special dress to kill, to govern, to judge, 
to preach, to mourn, to play. In every 
age the fashion in which he retains or 

' Livy. 

1 80 



The Temptation of Eve 

discards some portion of this dress de- 
notes a subtle change in his feelings." 
All visible things are emblematic of in- 
visible forces. Man fixed the association 
of colours with grief and gladness, he 
made ornaments the insignia of office, 
he ordained that fabric should grace the 
majesty of power. 

Yet though we know this well, it is our 
careless custom to talk about dress, and 
to write about dress, as if it had no mean- 
ing at all ; as if the breaking waves of 
fashion which carry with them the record 
of pride and gentleness, of distinction 
and folly, of the rising and shattering of 
ideals, — " the cut which betokens intel- 
lect and talent, the colour which betok- 
ens temper and heart," — were guided 
by no other law than chance, were a mere 
purposeless tyranny. Historians dwell 
upon the mad excesses of rufi and farth- 
ingale, of pointed shoe and swelling skirt, 
as if these things stood for nothing in a 
society forever alternating between rigid 

i8i 



Americans and Others 

formalism and the irrepressible spirit of 
democracy. 

Is it possible to look at a single cos- 
tume painted by Velasquez without 
realizing that the Spanish court under 
Philip the Fourth had lost the mo- 
bility which has characterized it in the 
days of Ferdinand and Isabella, and had 
hardened into a formalism, replete with 
dignity, but lacking intelligence, and out 
of touch with the great social issues of 
the day ? French chroniclers have written 
page after page of description — aimless 
and tiresome description, for the most 
part — of those amazing head-dresses 
which, at the court of Marie Antoinette, 
rose to such heights that the ladies looked 
as if their heads were in the middle of 
their bodies. They stood seven feet high 
when their hair was dressed, and a trifle 
over five when it was n't The Duchesse 
de Lauzun wore upon one memorable 
occasion a head-dress presenting a land- 
scape in high relief on the shore of a 

182 



The Temptation of Eve 

stormy lake, ducks swimming on the 
lake, a sportsman shooting at the ducks, 
a mill which rose from the crown of her 
head, a miller's wife courted by an abbe, 
and a miller placidly driving his donkey 
down the steep incline over the lady's 
left ear. 

It sounds like a Christmas pantomime ; 
but when we remember that the French 
court, that model of patrician pride, was 
playing with democracy, with republican- 
ism, with the simple life, as presented by 
Rousseau to its consideration, we see 
plainly enough how the real self-suf- 
ficiency of caste and the purely artificial 
sentiment of the day found expression in 
absurdities of costume. Women dared 
to wear such things, because, being 
aristocrats, they felt sure of themselves : 
and they professed to admire them, be- 
cause, being engulfed in sentiment, they 
had lost all sense of proportion. A miller 
and his donkey were rustic (Marie An- 
toinette adored rusticity) ; an abbe flirt- 

183 



Americans and Others 

ing with a miller's wife was as obviously 
artificial as Watteau. It would have been 
hard to find a happier or more express- 
ive combination. And when Rousseau 
and republicanism had won the race, we 
find the ladies of the Directoire illustrat- 
ing the national illusions with clinging 
and diaphanous draperies ; and asserting 
their affinity with the high ideals of an- 
cient Greece by wearing sandals instead 
of shoes, and rings on their bare white 
toes. The reaction from the magnificent 
formalism of court dress to this abrupt 
nudity is in itself a record as graphic and 
as illuminating as anything that histo- 
rians have to tell. The same great prin- 
ciple was at work in England when the 
Early Victorian virtues asserted their su- 
premacy, when the fashionable world, be- 
coming for a spell domestic and demure, 
expressed these qualities in smoothly 
banded hair, and draperies of decorous 
amplitude. There is, in fact, no phase of 
national life or national sentiment which 

184 



The Temptation of Eve 

has not betrayed itself to the world in 
dress. 

And not national life only, but individ- 
ual life as well. Clothes are more than 
historical, they are autobiographical. 
They tell their story in broad outlines 
and in minute detail. Was it for nothing 
that Charles the First devised that rich 
and sombre costume of black and white 
from which he never sought relief ? Was 
it for nothing that Garibaldi wore a red 
shirt, and Napoleon an old grey coat ? 
In proof that these things stood for char- 
acter and destiny, we have but to look 
at the resolute but futile attempt which 
Charles the Second made to follow his 
father's lead, to express something be- 
yond a fluctuating fashion in his dress. 
In 1666 he announced to his Council — 
which was, we trust, gratified by the in- 
telligence — that he intended to wear one 
unaltered costume for the rest of his days. 
A month later he donned this costume, 
the distinguishing features of which were 

185 



Americans and Others 

a long, close-fitting, black waistcoat, 
pinked with white, a loose embroidered 
surtout, and buskins. The court followed 
his example, and Charles not unnaturally 
complained that so many black and white 
waistcoats made him feel as though he 
were surrounded by magpies. So the 
white pinking was discarded, and plain 
black velvet waistcoats substituted. These 
were neither very gay, nor very becom- 
ing to a swarthy monarch ; and the never- 
to-be-altered costume lasted less than two 
years, to the great relief of the courtiers, 
especially of those who had risked betting 
with the king himself on its speedy dis- 
appearance. Expressing nothing but a 
caprice, it had the futility and the im- 
permanence of all caprices. 

Within the last century, men have 
gradually, and it would seem perman- 
ently, abandoned the effort to reveal their 
personality in dress. They have allowed 
themselves to be committed for life to a 
costume of ruthless utilitarianism, which 

i86 



The Temptation of Eve 

takes no count of physical beauty, or of 
its just display. Comfort, convenience, 
and sanitation have conspired to estab- 
lish a rigidity of rule never seen before, 
to which men yield a docile and lamb- 
like obedience. Robert Burton's ax- 
iom, " Nothing sooner dejects a man 
than clothes out of fashion," is as true 
now as it was three hundred years ago. 
Fashion sways the shape of a collar, and 
the infinitesimal gradations of a hat-brim; 
but the sense of fitness, and the power of 
interpreting life, which ennobled fashion 
in Burton's day, have disappeared in an 
enforced monotony. 

Men take a strange perverted pride in 
this mournful sameness of attire, — de- 
light in wearing a hat like every other 
man's hat, are content that it should be 
a perfected miracle of ugliness, that it 
should be hot, that it should be heavy, 
that it should be disfiguring, if only they 
can make sure of seeing fifty, or a hun- 
dred and fifty, other hats exactly like it 

187 



Americans and Others 

on their way downtown. So absolute is 
this uniformity that the late Marquess of 
Ailesbury bore all his life a reputation 
for eccentricity, which seems to have had 
no other foundation than the fact of his 
wearing hats, or rather a hat, of distinc- 
tive shape, chosen with reference to his 
own head rather than to the heads of 
some odd millions of fellow citizens. 
The story is told of his standing bare- 
headed in a hatter's shop, awaiting the 
return of a salesman who had carried off 
his own beloved head-gear, when a short- 
sighted bishop entered, and, not recog- 
nizing the peer, took him for an assistant, 
and handed him his hat, asking him if 
he had any exactly like it Lord Ailes- 
bury turned the bishop's hat over and 
over, examined it carefully inside and 
out, and gave it back again. " No," he 
said, " I have n't, and I '11 be damned if 
I 'd wear it, if I had." 

Even before the establishment of the 
invincible despotism which clothes the 

i88 



The Temptation of Eve 

gentlemen of Christendom in a livery, 
we find the masculine mind disposed to 
severity in the ruling of fashions. Steele, 
for example, tells us the shocking story 
of an English gentleman who would per- 
sist in wearing a broad belt with a hang- 
er, instead of the light sword then carried 
by men of rank, although in other re- 
spects he was a " perfectly well-bred per- 
son." Steele naturally regarded this ac- 
quaintance with deep suspicion, which 
was justified when, twenty-two years 
afterwards, the innovator married his 
cook-maid. "Others were amazed at 
this," writes the essayist, "but I must 
confess that I was not. I had always 
known that his deviation from the cos- 
tume of a gentleman indicated an ill- 
balanced mind." 

Now the adoption of a rigorous and 
monotonous utilitarianism in masculine 
attire has had two unlovely results. In 
the first place, men, since they ceased to 
covet beautiful clothes for themselves, 

189 



Americans and Others 

have wasted much valuable time in coun- 
selling and censuring women ; and, in 
the second place, there has come, with 
the loss of their fine trappings, a corre- 
sponding loss of illusions on the part of 
the women who look at them. Black 
broadcloth and derby hats are calculated 
to destroy the most robust illusions in 
Christendom ; and men — from motives 
hard to fathom — have refused to retain 
in their wardrobes a single article which 
can amend an imperfect ideal. This does 
not imply that women fail to value friends 
in black broadcloth, nor that they refuse 
their affections to lovers and husbands 
in derby hats. Nature is not to be balked 
by such impediments. But as long as 
men wore costumes which interpreted 
their strength, enhanced their persua- 
siveness, and concealed their shortcom- 
ings, women accepted their dominance 
without demur. They made no idle claim 
to equality with creatures, not only big- 
ger and stronger, not only more capable 

190 



The Temptation of Eve 

and more resolute, not only wiser and 
more experienced, but more noble and 
distinguished in appearance than they 
were themselves. What if the assertive 
attitude of the modem woman, her easy 
arrogance, and the confidence she places 
in her own untried powers, may be ac- 
counted for by the dispiriting clothes 
which men have determined to wear, and 
the wearing of which may have cost 
them no small portion of their authority ? 
The whole attitude of women in this 
regard is fraught with significance. Men 
have rashly discarded those details of 
costume which enhanced their comeli- 
ness and charm (we have but to look at 
Van Dyck's portraits to see how much 
rare distinction is traceable to subdued 
elegance of dress); but women have 
never through the long centuries laid 
aside the pleasant duty of self-adorn- 
ment. They dare not if they would, — too 
much is at stake; and they experience 
the just delight which comes from coop- 

191 



Americans and Others 

eration with a natural law. The flexi- 
bility of their dress gives them every 
opportunity to modify, to enhance, to re- 
veal, and to conceal. It is in the highest 
degree interpretative, and through it they 
express their aspirations and ideals, their 
thirst for combat and their realization of 
defeat, their fluctuating sentiments and 
their permanent predispositions. 

** A winning wave, deserving note, 
In the tempestuous petticoat ; 
A careless shoe-string, in whose tie 
I see a wild civilitj." 

Naturally, in a matter so vital, they are 
not disposed to listen to reason, and they 
cannot be argued out of a great funda* 
mental instinct Women are constitu- 
tionally incapable of being influenced by 
argument, — a limitation which is in the 
nature of a safeguard. The cunning 
words in which M. Marcel Provost urges 
them to follow the example of men, 
sounds, to their ears, a little like the 
words in which the fox which had lost 

192 



The Temptation of Eve 

its tail counsels its fellow foxes to rid 
themselves of so despicable an append- 
age. " Before the Revolution," writes M. 
Provost, in his " Lettres k Frangois," " the 
clothes worn by men of quality were 
more costly than those worn by women. 
To-day all men dress with such uniform- 
ity that a Huron, transported to Paris or 
to London, could not distinguish master 
from valet. This will assiu-edly be the 
fate of feminine toilets in a future more 
or less near. The time must come when 
the varying costumes now seen at balls, 
at the races, at the theatre, will all be 
swept away; and in their place women 
will wear, as men do, a species of uni- 
form. There will be a 'woman's suit,' 
costing sixty francs at BatignoUes, and 
five hundred francs in the rue de la 
Paix ; and, this reform once accom- 
plished, it will never be possible to return 
to old conditions. Reason will have tri- 
umphed." 

Perhaps I But reason has been routed 

193 



Americans and Others 

so often from the field that one no longer 
feels confident of her success. M. Bau- 
drillart had a world of reason on his side 
when, before the Chamber of Deputies, 
he urged reform in dress, and the legal 
suppression of jewels and costly fabrics. 
M. de Lavaleye, the Belgian statist, was 
fortified by reason when he proposed his 
grey serge uniform for women of all 
classes. If we turn back a page or two 
of history, and look at the failure of the 
sumptuary laws in England, we find the 
wives of London tradesmen, who were not 
permitted to wear velvet in public, lining 
their grogram gowns with this costly 
fabric, for the mere pleasure of posses- 
sion, for the meaningless — and most 
unreasonable — joy of expenditure. And 
when Queen Elizabeth, who considered 
extravagance in dress to be a royal pre- 
rogative, attempted to coerce the ladies 
of her court into simplicity, the Countess 
of Shrewsbury comments with ill-con- 
cealed irony on the result of such rea- 

194 



The Temptation of Eve 

sonable endeavours. "How often hath 
her majestie, with the grave advice of 
her honourable Councell, sette down the 
limits of apparell of every degree ; and 
how soon again hath the pride of our 
harts overflown the chanell." 

There are two classes of critics who 
still waste their vital forces in a futile at- 
tempt to reform feminine dress. The first 
class cherish artistic sensibilities which 
are grievously wounded by the caprices 
of fashion. They anathematize a civiliza- 
tion which tolerates ear-rings, or feathered 
hats, or artificial flowers. They appear 
to suffer vicarious torments from high- 
heeled shoes, spotted veils, and stays. 
They have occasional doubts as to the 
moral influence of ball-dresses. An un- 
usually sanguine writer of this order has 
assured us, in the pages of the " Con- 
temporary Review," that when women 
once assume their civic responsibilities, 
they will dress as austerely as men. The 
first fruits of the suffrage will be seen in 

195 



Americans and Others 

sober and virtue-compelling gowns at 
the opera. 

The second class of critics is made up 
of economists, who believe that too much 
of the world's earnings is spent upon 
clothes, and that this universal spirit of ex- 
travagance retards marriage, and blocks 
the progress of the race. It is in an ig- 
noble effort to pacify these last censors 
that women writers undertake to tell their 
women readers, in the pages of women's 
periodicals, how to dress on sums of in- 
credible insufficiency. Such misleading 
guides would be harmless, and even in 
their way amusing, if nobody believed 
them ; but unhappily somebody always 
does believe them, and that somebody is 
too often a married man. There is no 
measure to the credulity of the average 
semi-educated man when confronted by a 
printed page (print carries such authority 
in his eyes), and with rows of figures, all 
showing conclusively that two and two 
make three, and that with economy and 

196 



The Temptation of Eve 

good management they can be reduced to 
one and a half. He has never mastered, 
and apparentiy never will master, the 
exact shade of difference between a state- 
ment and a fact 

Women are, under most circumstances, 
even more readily deceived ; but, in the 
matter of dress, they have walked the 
thorny paths of experience. They know 
the cruel cost of everything they wear, — 
a cost which in this country is artifi- 
cially maintained by a high protective 
tariff, — and they are not to be cajoled by 
that delusive word "simplicity," being 
too well aware that it is, when synony- 
mous with good taste, the consummate 
success of artists, and the crowning 
achievement of wealth. Some years ago 
there appeared in one of the English 
magazines an article entitied, "How 
to Dress on Thirty Pounds a Year. As 
a Lady. By a Lady." Whereupon 
"Punch" offered the following light- 
minded amendment : " How to Dress on 

197 



Americans and Others 

Nothing a Year. As a Kaffir. By a Kaf- 
fir." At least a practical proposition. 

Mr. Henry James has written some 
charming paragraphs on the symboUc 
value of clothes, as illustrated by the cos- 
tumes worn by the French actresses of 
the Comedie, — women to whose unerr- 
ing taste dress affords an expression of 
fine dramatic quality. He describes with 
enthusiasm the appearance of Madame 
Nathalie, when playing the part of an el- 
derly provincial bourgeoise in a curtain- 
lifter called " Le VUlage." 

"It was the quiet felicity of the old 
lady's dress that used to charm me. She 
wore a large black silk mantilla of a pe- 
culiar cut, which looked as if she had just 
taken it tenderly out of some old ward- 
robe where it lay folded in lavender, and 
a large dark bonnet, adorned with hand- 
some black silk loops and bows. The 
extreme suggestiveness, and yet the 
taste and temperateness of this costume, 
seemed to me inimitable. The bonnet 

198 



The Temptation of Eve 

alone, with its handsome, decent, virtu- 
ous bows, was worth coming to see." 

If we compare this " quiet felicity " of 
the artist with the absurd travesties worn 
on our American stage, we can better 
understand the pleasure which filled Mr. 
James's heart What, for example, would 
Madame Nathalie have thought of the 
modish gowns which Mrs. Fiske intro- 
duces into the middle-class Norwegian 
life of Ibsen's dramas 7 No plays can less 
well bear such inaccuracies, because they 
depend on their stage-setting to bring 
before our eyes their alien aspect, to 
make us feel an atmosphere with which 
we are wholly unfamiliar. The accessor- 
ies are few, but of supreme importance ; 
and it is inconceivable that a keenly in- 
telligent actress like Mrs. Fiske should 
sacrifice vraisemblance to a meaningless 
refinement. In the second act of " Ros- 
mersholm," to take a single instance, 
the text calls for a morning wrapper, a 
thing so manifesdy careless and informal 

199 



Americans and Others 

that the school-master, Kroll, is scanda- 
lized at seeing Rebecca in it, and says 
so plainly. But as Mrs. Fiske plays the 
scene in a tea-gown of elaborate ele- 
gance, in which she might with propriety 
have received the Archbishop of Canter- 
bury, Kroll's studied apologies for in- 
truding upon her before she has had 
time to dress, and the whole suggestion 
of undue intimacy between Rebecca and 
Rosmer, which Ibsen meant to convey, 
is irrevocably lost And to weaken a sit- 
uation for the sake of being prettily 
dressed would be impossible to a French 
actress, trained in the delicacies of her 
art. 

If the feeling for clothes, the sense of 
their correspondence with time and place, 
with public enthusiasms and with priv- 
ate sensibilities, has always belonged to 
France, it was a no less dominant note 
in Italy during the two hundred years in 
which she eclipsed and bewildered the 
lest of Christendom ; and it bore fruit in 

200 



The Temptation of Eve 

those great historic wardrobes which the 
Italian chroniclers describe with loving 
minuteness. We know all about Isabella 
d' Este's gowns, as if she had worn them 
yesterday, We know all about the jewels 
which were the assertion of her husband's 
pride in times of peace, and his security 
with the Lombard bankers in times of 
war. We know what costumes the young 
Beatrice d' Este carried with her on her 
mission to Venice, and how favourably 
they impressed the grave Venetian Sen- 
ate. We can count the shifts in Lucretia 
Borgia's trousseau, when that much- 
slandered woman became Duchess of Fer- 
rara, and we can reckon the cost of the 
gold fringe which hung from her linen 
sleeves. We are told which of her robes 
was wrought with fish scales, and which 
with interlacing leaves, and which with a 
hem of pure and flame-like gold. Ambas- 
sadors described in state papers her green 
velvet cap with its golden ornaments, 
and the emerald she wore on her fore- 

20I 



Americans and Others 

head, and the black ribbon which tied 
her beautiful fair hair. 

These vanities harmonized with char- 
acter and circumstance. The joy of liv- 
ing was then expressing itself in an over- 
whelming sense of beauty, and in mate- 
rial splendoiu* which, unlike the material 
splendour of to-day, never overstepped 
the standard set by the intellect. Taste 
had become a triumphant principle, and 
as women grew in dignity and import- 
ance, they set a higher and higher value 
on the compelling power of dress. They 
had no more doubt on this score than 
had wise Homer when he hung the neck- 
laces around Aphrodite's tender neck be- 
fore she was well out of the sea, winding 
them row after row in as many circles as 
there are stars clustering about the moon. 
No more doubt than had the fair and vir- 
tuous Countess of Salisbury, who, so 
Froissart tells us, chilled the lawless pas- 
sion of Edward the Third by the simple 
expedient of wearing unbefitting clothes. 

202 



The Temptation of Eve 

Saint Lucy, under somewhat similar cir- 
cumstances, felt it necessary to put out 
her beautiful eyes; but Katharine of 
Salisbury knew men better than the saint 
knew them. She shamed her loveliness 
by going to Edward's banquet looking 
like a rustic, and found herself in con- 
sequence very comfortably free from 
royal attentions. 

In the wise old days when men out- 
shone their consorts, we find their hearts 
set discerningly on one supreme extrav- 
agance. Lace, the most artistic fabric 
that taste and ingenuity have devised, 
" the fine web which feeds the pride of 
the world," was for centuries the delight 
of every well-dressed gentleman. We 
know not by what marital cajolery Mr. 
Pepys persuaded Mrs. Pepys to g^ve him 
the lace from her best petticoat, " that 
she had when I married her " ; but we do 
know that he used it to trim a new coat ; 
and that he subsequently noted down in 
his diary one simple, serious, and heart- 

203 



Americans and Others 

felt resolution, which we feel sure was 
faithfully kept : " Henceforth I am de- 
termined my chief expense shall be in 
lace bands." Charles the Second paid 
fifteen pounds apiece for his lace-trimmed 
night-caps ; William the Third, five hun- 
dred pounds for a set of lace-trimmed 
night-shirts ; and Cinq-Mars, the favour- 
ite of Louis the Thirteenth, who was be- 
headed when he was barely twenty-two, 
found time in his short life to acquire 
three hundred sets of lace ruffles. The 
lace collars of Van Dyck's portraits, the 
lace cravats which Grahame of Claver- 
house and Montrose wear over their 
armour, are subtiy suggestive of the 
strength that lies in delicacy. The fight- 
ing qualities of Claverhouse were not less 
effective because of those soft folds of 
lace and linen. The death of Montrose 
was no less noble because he went to the 
scaffold in scarlet and fine linen, with 
" stockings of incarnate silk, and roses 
on his shoon." Once Carlyle was dispar- 

204 



The Temptation of Eve 

ag^ng Montrose, as (being in a denun- 
ciatory mood) he would have disparaged 
the Archangel Michael ; and, finding his 
hearers disposed to disagree with him, 
asked bitterly : " What did Montrose do 
anyway ? " Whereupon Irving retorted : 
" He put on a clean shirt to be hanged 
in, and that is more than you, Carlyle, 
would ever have done in his place." 

It was the association of the scaffold 
with an ignoble victim which banished 
black satin from the London world. Be- 
cause a foul-hearted murderess * elected 
to be hanged in this material, English- 
women refused for years to wear it, and 
many bales of black satin languished on 
the drapers' shelves, — a memorable in- 
stance of the significance which attaches 
itself to dress. The caprices of fashion 
do more than illustrate a woman's ca- 
pacity or incapacity for selection. They 
mirror her inward refinements, and sym- 
bolize those feminine virtues and vani- 

' Mrs. Manning. 
205 



Americans and Others 

ties which are so closely akin as to be 
occasionally undistinguishable. 

** A saint in crape is twice a saint in lawn," 

mocked Pope ; and woman smiles at the 
satire, knowing more about the matter 
than Pope could ever have known, and 
seeing a little sparkle of truth glimmer- 
ing beneath the g^be. Fashion fluctuates 
from one charming absurdity to another, 
and each in turn is welcomed and dis- 
missed; through each in turn woman 
endeavours to reveal her own elusive 
personality. Poets no longer praise with 
Herrick the brave vibrations of her petti- 
coats. Ambassadors no longer describe 
her caps and ribbons in their official 
documents. Novelists no longer devote 
twenty pages, as did the admirable Rich- 
ardson, to the wedding finery of their 
heroines. Men have ceased to be vitally 
interested in dress, but none the less are 
they sensitive to its influence and en- 
slaved by its results ; while women, pre- 
serving through the centuries the great 

206 



The Temptation of Eve 

traditions of their sex, still rate at its 
utmost value the prize for which Eve 
sold her freehold in the Garden of Para- 
dise. 



" The Greatest of These is 

Charity" 

Mrs. James Gordon Harrington Balder- 
ston to Mrs. Laphant Shepherd 

MY DEAR MRS. SHEPHERD, 
Will you pardon me for this 
base encroachment on your 
time? Busy women are the only ones 
who ever have any time, so the rest of the 
world is forced to steal from them. And 
then all that you organize is so success- 
ful that every one turns naturally to you 
for advice and assistance, as I am turn- 
ing now. A really charming woman, a 
Miss Alexandrina Ramsay, who has lived 
for years in Italy, is anxious to give a 
series of lectures on Dante. I am sure 
they will be interesting, for she can put so 
much local colour into them, and I un- 

208 



charity 



derstand she is a fluent Italian scholar. 
Her uncle was the English Consul in 
Florence or Naples, I don't remember 
which, so she has had unusual opportun- 
ities for study ; and her grandfather was 
Dr. Alexander Ramsay, who wrote a his- 
tory of the Hebrides. Unfortunately her 
voice is not very strong, so she would be 
heard to the best advantage in a draw- 
ing-room. I am wondering whether you 
would consent to lend yours, which is so 
beautiful, or whether you could put Miss 
Ramsay in touch with the Century Club, 
or the Spalding School. You will find 
her attractive, I am sure. The Penhursts 
knew her well in Munich, and have given 
her a letter to me. 

Pray allow me to congratulate you on 
your new honours as a grandmother. I 
trust that both your daughter and the 
baby are well. 

Very sincerely yours, 

Irene Balderston. 
209 



Americans and Others 

I forgot to tell you that Miss Ramsay's 
lectures are on 

Dante, the Lover. 

Dante, the Poet. 

Dante, the Patriot 

Dante, the Reformer. 
There was a fifth on Dante, the Prophet, 
but I persuaded her to leave it out of the 
course. 

LB. 

Mrs. Lapham Shepherd to Mrs. Wilfred 

Ward Hamilton 

Dear Mrs. Hamilton, — 

Mrs. James Balderston has asked me 
to do what I can for a Miss Alexandrina 
Ramsay (granddaughter of the histo- 
rian), who wants to g^ve four lectures on 
Dante in Philadelphia. She has chopped 
him up into poet, prophet, lover, etc. I 
cannot have any lectures or readings in 
my house this winter. Jane is still far 
from strong, and we shall probably go 
South after Christmas. Please don't let 

2IO 



Charity 



me put any burden on your shoulders ; 
but if Dr. Hamilton could persuade those 
nice Quakers at Swarthmore that there 
is nothing so educational as a course of 
Dante, it would be the best possible 
opening for Miss Ramsay. Mrs. Balder- 
ston seems to think her voice would not 
carry in a large room, but as students 
never listen to anybody, this would make 
very litde difference. The Century Club 
has been suggested, but I fancy the 
classes there have been arranged for the 
season. There are preparatory schools, 
are n't there, at Swarthmore, which need 
to know about Dante ? Or would there 
be any chance at all at Miss Irington's ? 
Miss Ramsay has been to see me, and 
I feel sorry for the girl. Her uncle was 
the English Consul at Milan, and the 
poor thing loved Italy (who does n't !), 
and hated to leave it. I wish she could 
establish herself as a lecturer, though 
there is nothing I detest more ardendy 
than lectures. 

211 



Americans and Others 

I missed you sorely at the meeting of 
the Aubrey Home house-committee yes- 
terday. Harriet Maline and Mrs. Percy 
Brown had a battie royal over the laying 
of the new water-pipes, and over my 
prostrate body, which still aches from the 
contest I wish Harriet would resign. She 
is the only creature I have ever known, 
except the Bate's parrot and my present 
cook, who is perpetually out of temper. 
If she were not my husband's step- 
mother's niece, I am sure I could stand 
up to her better. 

Cordially yours, 

Alice Leigh Shepherd. 

Mrs. Wilfred Ward Hamilton to Miss 

Violet Wray 

Dear Violet, — 

You know Margaret Irington better 
than I do. Do you think she would like 
to have a course of Dante in her school 
this winter? A very clever and charming 
woman, a Miss Alexandrina Ramsay, 

212 



charity 



has four lectures on the poet which she is 
anxious to give before schools, or clubs, 
or — if she can — in private houses. I 
have promised Mrs. Shepherd to do 
anjrthing in my power to help her. It 
occurred to me that the Contemporary 
Club might like to have one of the lec- 
tures, and you are on the committee. 
That would be the making of Miss Ram- 
say, if only she could be heard in that 
huge Clover Room. I understand she has 
a pleasant cultivated voice, but is not ac- 
customed to public speaking. There must 
be plenty of smaller clubs at Bryn Mawr, 
or Haverford, or Chestnut Hill, for which 
she would be just the thing. Her grand- 
father wrote a history of England, and I 
have a vague impression that I studied 
it at school. I should write to the Drexel 
Institute, but don't know anybody con- 
nected with it. Do you ? It would be a 
real kindness to give Miss Ramsay a 
start, and I know you do not begrudge 
trouble in a good cause. You did such 

213 



Americans and Others 

wonders for Fraulein Breitenbach last 
winter. 

Lx)ve to your mother, 

Affectionately yours, 

Hannah Gale Hamilton. 

Miss Violet Wray to Mrs. J. Lockwood 

Smith 

Dear Ann, — 

I have been requested by Hannah 
Hamilton — may Heaven forgive her ! — 
to find lecture engagements for a Miss 
Ramsay, Miss Alexandrina Ramsay, who 
wants to tell the American public what 
she knows about Dante. Why a Scotch- 
woman should be turned loose in the 
Inferno, I cannot say ; but it seems her 
father or her grandfather wrote school- 
books, and she is carrying on the educa- 
tional traditions of the family. Hannah 
made the unholy suggestion that she 
should speak at the Contemporary Club, 
and offered as an inducement the fact 
that she could n't be heard in so large a 

214 



charity 



room. But we are supposed to discuss 
topics of the day, and Dante happened 
some littie while ago. He has no bearing 
upon aviation, or National Insurance 
Bills (that is our subject next Monday 
night) ; but he is brimming over with 
ethics, and it is the duty of your precious 
Ethical Society to grapple with him ex- 
haustively. I always wondered what took 
you to that strange substitute for chtirch ; 
but now I see in it the hand of Provi- 
dence pointing the way to Miss Ramsay's 
lecture field. Please persuade your fel- 
low Ethicals that four lectures — or even 
one lecture — on Dante will be what 
Alice Hunt calls an " uplift." I feel that 
I must try and find an opening for Han- 
nah's protegee, because she helped me 
with Fraulein Breitenbach's concert last 
winter, — a circumstance she does not 
lightiy permit me to forget. Did I say, 
" May Heaven forgive her " for sad- 
dling me with this Scotch schoolmaster's 
daughter ? Well, I take back that devout 

215 



Americans and Others 

supplication. May jackals sit on her 
grandmother's grave 1 Meantime here is 
Miss Ramsay to be provided for. If your 
Ethicals (disregarding their duty) will 
have none of her, please think up some- 
body with a taste for serious study, and 
point out that Dante, elucidated by a 
Scotchwoman, will probably be as seri- 
ous as anything that has visited Phila- 
delphia since the yellow fever. 

If you want one of Grisette's kittens, 
there are still two left. The handsomest 
of all has gone to live in regal splendour 
at the Bruntons, and I have promised 
another to our waitress who was married 
last month. Such are the vicissitudes of 
life. 

Ever yours, 

Violet Wray. 

Mrs. J. Lockwood Smith to Mrs. James 
Gordon Harrington Balderston 

Dear Mrs. Balderston, — 
I want to enlist your interest in a clever 

216 



charity 



young Scotchwoman, a Miss Alexandrina 
Ramsay, who hopes to give four lectures 
on Dante in Philadelphia this winter. 
Her father was an eminent teacher in 
his day, and I understand she is thor- 
oughly equipped for her work. Heaven 
knows I wish fewer lecturers would cross 
the sea to enlighten our ignorance, and 
so will you when you get this letter ; but 
I remember with what enthusiasm you 
talked about Italy and Dante at Brown's 
Mills last spring, and I trust that your 
ardour has not waned. The Century Club 
seems to me the best possible field for 
Miss Ramsay. Do you know any one on 
the entertainment committee, and do you 
think it is not too late in the season to 
apply ? Of course there are always the 
schools. Dear Mrs. Balderston, I should 
feel more shame in troubling you, did I 
not know how capable you are, and how 
much weight your word carries. Violet 
Wray and Mrs. Wilfred Hamilton are 
tremendously interested in Miss Ramsay. 

217 



Americans and Others 

May I tell Violet to send her to you, so 
that you can see for yourself what she is 
like, and what chances she has of suc- 
cess ? Please be quite frank in saying yes 
or no, and believe me always. 
Yours very cordially, 

Ann Hazelton Smith. 



The Customary Correspond- 
ent 

** Letters warmly sealed and coldly opened." 

RiCHTER. 

WHY do so many ingenious 
theorists give fresh reasons 
every year for the decline of 
letter writing, and why do they assume, 
in derision of suffering humanity, that it 
has declined ? They lament the lack of 
leisure, the lack of sentiment, — Mr. Lu- 
cas adds the lack of stamps, — which 
chill the ardour of the correspondent; 
and they fail to ascertain how chilled he 
is, or how far he sets at naught these 
justiy restraining influences. They talk 
of telegrams, and telephones, and postal 
cards, as if any discovery of science, any 
device of civilization, could eradicate from 
the human heart that passion for self-ex- 

219 



Americans and Others 

pression which is the impelling force of 
letters. They also fail to note that, side 
by side with telephones and telegrams, 
comes the baleful reduction of postage 
rates, which lowers our last barrier of 
defence. Two cents an ounce leaves us 
naked at the mercy of the world. 

It is on record that a Liverpool trades- 
man once wrote to Dickens, to express 
the pleasure he had derived from that 
great Englishman's immortal novels, 
and enclosed, by way of testimony, a 
cheque for five hundred pounds. This is 
a phenomenon which ought to be more 
widely known than it is, for there is no 
natural law to prevent its recurrence; 
and while the world will never hold an- 
other Dickens, there are many deserving 
novelists who may like to recall the in- 
cident when they open their morning's 
mail. It would be pleasant to associate 
our morning's mail with such fair illu- 
sions ; and though writing to strangers 
is but a parlous pastime, the Liverpool 

220 



Customary Correspondent 

gentleman threw a new and radiant light 
upon its possibilities. " The gratuitous 
contributor is, ex vi termini^ an ass," 
said Christopher North sourly ; but then 
he never knew, nor ever deserved to 
know, this particular kind of contribution. 
Generally speaking, the unknown cor- 
respondent does not write to praise. His 
guiding principle is the diffusion of use- 
less knowledge, and he demands or im- 
parts it according to the exigencies of 
the hour. It is strange that a burning 
thirst for information should be com- 
bined with such reluctance to acquire it 
through ordinary channels. A man who 
wishes to write a paper on the botanical 
value of Shakespeare's plays does not 
dream of consulting a concordance and 
a botany, and then going to work. The 
bald simplicity of such a process offends 
his sense of magnitude. He writes to 
a distinguished scholar, asking a num- 
ber of burdensome questions, and is ap- 
parently under the impression that the 

221 



Americans and Others 

resources of the scholar's mind, the fruits 
of boundless industry, should be cheer- 
fully placed at his disposal. A woman 
who meditates a " literary essay " upon 
domestic pets is not content to track her 
quarry through the long library shelves. 
She writes to some painstaking worker, 
enquiring what English poets have " simg 
the praises of the cat," and if Cowper 
was the only author who ever domesti- 
cated hares? One of Huxley's most 
amusing letters is written in reply to a 
gentleman who wished to compile an 
article on "Home Pets of Celebrities," 
and who unhesitatingly applied for par- 
ticulars concerning the Hodeslea cat 

These are, of course, labour-saving 
devices, but economy of effort is not al- 
ways the ambition of the correspondent. 
It would seem easier, on the whole, to 
open a dictionary of quotations than to 
compose an elaborately polite letter, re- 
questing to know who said — 

'* Fate cannot harm me ; I have dined to-day." 

222 



Customary Correspondent 

It is certainly easier, and far more agree- 
able, to read Charles Lamb's essays than 
to ask a stranger in which one of them 
he discovered the author's heterodox 
views on encyclopaedias. It involves no 
great fatigue to look up a poem of Her- 
rick's, or a letter of Shelley's, or a novel 
of Peacock's (these things are accessible 
and repay enquiry), and it would be a 
rational and self-respecting thing to do, 
instead of endeavouring to extort infor- 
mation (like an intellectual footpad) from 
writers who are in no way called upon 
to furnish it. 

One thing is sure. As long as there 
are people in this world whose guiding 
principle is the use of other people's 
brains, there can be no decline and fall 
of letter-writing. The correspondence 
which plagued our great-grandfathers 
a hundred years ago, plagues their de- 
scendants to-day. Readers of Lockhart's 
"Scott" will remember how an Edin- 
burgh minister named Brunton, who 

223 



Americans and Others 

wished to compile a hymnal, wrote to 
the poet Crabbe for a list of hymns ; and 
how Crabbe (who, albeit a clergyman, 
knew probably as little about hymns as 
any man in England) wrote in turn to 
Scott, to please help him to help Brun- 
ton ; and how Scott replied in despera- 
tion that he envied the hermit of Prague 
who never saw pen nor ink. How many 
of us have in our day thought longingly 
of that blessed anchorite! Surely Mr. 
Herbert Spencer must, consciously or 
unconsciously, have shared Scott's senti- 
ments, when he wrote a letter to the pub- 
lic press, explaining with patient courtesy 
that, being old, and busy, and very tired, 
it was no longer possible for him to an- 
swer all the unknown correspondents 
who demanded information upon every 
variety of subject. He had tried to do 
this for many years, but the tax was too 
heavy for his strength, and he was com- 
pelled to take refuge in silence. 
Ingenious authors and editors who 

224 



Customary Correspondent 

ask for free copy form a class apart 
They are not pursuing knowledge for 
their own needs, but offering themselves 
as channels through which we may grat- 
uitously enlighten the world. Their ques- 
tions, though intimate to the verge of 
indiscretion, are put in the name of hu- 
manity ; and we are bidden to confide to 
the public how far we indulge in the use 
of stimulants, what is the nature of our 
belief in immortality, if — being women 
— we should prefer to be men, and what 
incident of our lives has most profoundly 
affected our careers. Reticence on our 
part is met by the assurance that emi- 
nent people all over the country are 
hastening to answer these queries, and 
that the "unique nature" of the discus- 
sion will make it of permanent value to 
mankind. We are also told in soothing 
accents that our replies need not exceed 
a few hundred words, as the editor is 
nobly resolved not to infringe upon our 
valuable time. 

225 



Americans and Others 

Less commercial, but quite as import- 
unate, are the correspondents who belong 
to literary societies, and who have under- 
taken to read,^before these select circles, 
papers upon every conceivable subject, 
from the Bride of the Canticle to the di- 
vorce laws of France. They regret their 
own ignorance — as well they may — 
and blandly ask for aid. There is no 
limit to demands of this character. The 
young Englishwoman who wrote to 
Tennyson, requesting some verses which 
she might read as her own at a picnic, 
was not more intrepid than the Amer- 
ican school-girl who recentiy asked a 
man of letters to permit her to see an 
unpublished address, as she had heard 
that it dealt with the subject of her grad- 
uation paper, and hoped it might give 
her some points. It is hard to believe 
that the timidity natural to youth — or 
which we used to think natural to youth 
— could be so easily overcome ; or that 
the routine of school work, which makes 

226 



Customary Correspondent 

for honest if inefficient acquirements, 
could leave a student still begging or 
borrowing her way. 

We must in justice admit, however, 
that the unknown correspondent is as 
ready to volunteer assistance as to de- 
mand it. He is ingenious in criticism, 
and fertile in suggestions. He has in- 
spirations in the way of plots and topics, 
— like that amiable baronet. Sir John 
Sinclair, who wanted Scott to write a 
poem on the adventures and intrigues 
of a Caithness mermaiden, and who 
proffered him, by way of inducement, 
" all the information I possess." The cor- 
respondent's tone, when writing to hum- 
bler drudges in the field, is kind and 
patronizing. He admits that he likes 
your books, or at least — here is a veiled 
reproach — that he " has liked the earlier 
ones " ; he assumes, unwarrantably, that 
you are familiar with his favourite au- 
thors ; and he believes that it would be 
for you "an interesting and congenial 

227 



Americans and Others 

task " to trace the " curious connection *' 
between American fiction and the stock 
exchange. Sometimes, with thinly veiled 
sarcasm, he demands that you should 
"enlighten his dulness," and say why 
you gave your book its title. If he can- 
not find a French word you have used in 
his " excellent dictionary," he thinks it 
worth while to write and tell you so. 
He fears you do not " wholly understand 
or appreciate the minor poets of your 
native land" ; and he protests, more in 
sorrow than in anger, against certain in- 
nocent phrases with which you have dis- 
figured " your otherwise graceful pages." 
Now it must be an impulse not easily 
resisted which prompts people to this 
gratuitous expression of their opinions. 
They take a world of trouble which they 
could so easily escape; they deem it 
their privilege to break down the barriers 
which civilization has taught us to re- 
spect ; and if they ever find themselves 
repaid, it is assuredly by something re- 

228 



Customary Correspondent 

mote from the gratitude of their corre- 
spondents. Take, for example, the case 
of Mr. Peter Bayne, journalist, and bi- 
ographer of Martin Luther, who wrote 
to Tennyson, — with whom he was unac- 
quainted, — protesting earnestly against 
a line in " Lady Clare ": — 

** * If I 'm a beggar born,' she said." 

It was Mr. Bayne's opinion that such an 
expression was not only exaggerated, 
inasmuch as the nurse was not, and never 
had been, a beggar ; but, coming from a 
child to her mother, was harsh and un- 
filial. "The criticism of my heart," he 
wrote, " tells me that Lady Clare could 
never have said that." 

Tennyson was perhaps the last man in 
Christendom to have accepted the testi- 
mony of Mr. Bayne's heart-throbs. He 
intimated with some asperity that he 
knew better than any one else what Lady 
Clare did say, and he pointed out that she 
had just cause for resentment against a 

229 



Americans and Others 

mother who had placed her in such an 
embarrassing position. The controversy 
is one of the drollest in literature ; but 
what is hard to understand is the mental 
attitude of a man — and a reasonably 
busy man — who could attach so much 
importance to Lady Clare's remarks, and 
who could feel himself justified in cor- 
recting them. 

Begging letters form a class apart 
They represent a great and growing in- 
dustry, and they are too purposeful to 
illustrate the abstract passion for corre- 
spondence. Yet marvellous things have 
been done in this field. There is an in- 
genuity, a freshness and fertility of de- 
vice about the begging letter which lifts 
it often to the realms of genius. Experi- 
enced though we all are, it has surprises 
in store for every one of us. Seasoned 
though we are, we cannot read without 
appreciation of its more daring and fan- 
tastic flights. There was, for instance, a 
very imperative person who wrote to 

230 



Customary Correspondent 

Dickens for a donkey, and who said he 
would call for it the next day, as though 
Dickens kept a herd of donkeys in Tavi- 
stock Square, and could always spare 
one for an emergency. There was a 
French gentleman who wrote to Moore, 
demanding a lock of Byron's hair for a 
young lady, who would — so he said — 
die if she did not get it. This was a very 
lamentable letter, and Moore was con- 
jured, in the name of the young lady's 
distracted family, to send the lock, and 
save her from the grave. And there was 
a misanthrope who wrote to Peel that he 
was weary of the ways of men (as so, 
no doubt, was Peel), and who requested 
a hermitage in some nobleman's park, 
where he might live secluded from the 
world. The best begging-letter writers 
depend upon the element of surprise as 
a valuable means to their end. I knew a 
benevolent old lady who, in 1885, was 
asked to subscribe to a fund for the pur- 
chase of "moderate luxuries" for the 

231 



Americans and Others 

French soldiers in Madagascar. " What 
did you do?" I asked, when informed of 
the incident. " I sent the money," was the 
placid reply. " I thought I might never 
again have an opportunity to send money 
to Madagascar." 

It would be idle to deny that a word 
of praise, a word of thanks, sometimes 
a word of criticism, have been powerful 
factors in the lives of men of genius. We 
know how profoundly Lord Byron was 
affected by the letter of a consumptive 
girl, written simply and soberly, signed 
with initials only, seeking no notice and 
giving no address ; but saying in a few 
candid words that the writer wished be- 
fore she died to thank the poet for the 
rapture his poems had given her. " I 
look upon such a letter," wrote Byron to 
Moore, "as better than a diploma from 
Gottingen." We know, too, what a splen- 
did impetus to Carlyle was that first letter 
from Goethe, a letter which he confessed 
seemed too wonderful to be real, and 

232 



Customary Correspondent 

more " like a message from fairyland." 
It was but a brief note after all, tepid, 
sensible, and egotistical ; but the magic 
sentence, ** It may be I shall yet hear 
much of you," became for years an im- 
pelling force, the kind of prophecy which 
insured its own fulfilment. 

Carlyle was susceptible to praise, 
though few readers had the temerity to 
offer it. We find him, after the publica- 
tion of the " French Revolution," writing 
urbanely to a young and unknown ad- 
mirer ; " I do not blame your enthusi- 
asm." But when a less happily-minded 
youth sent him some suggestions for 
the reformation of society, Carlyle, who 
could do all his own grumbling, returned 
his disciple's complaints with this laconic 
denial: "A pack of damned nonsense, 
you unfortunate fool." It sounds unkind ; 
but we must remember that there were 
six posts a day in London, that " each 
post brought its batch of letters," and 
that nine tenths of these letters — so Car- 

233 



Americans and Others 

lyle sa)rs — were from strangers, de- 
manding autographs, and seeking or 
proffering advice. One man wrote that 
he was distressingly ugly, and asked 
what should he do about it " So profit- 
able have my epistolary fellow creatures 
grown to me in these years," notes the 
historian in his journal, " that when the 
postman leaves nothing, it may well be 
felt as an escape." 

The most patient correspondent known 
to fame was. Sir Walter Scott, though 
Lord Byron surprises us at times by the 
fine quality of his good nature. His let- 
ters are often petulant, — especially when 
Murray has sent him tragedies instead of 
tooth-powder ; but he is perhaps the only 
man on record who received with perfect 
equanimity the verses of an aspiring 
young poet, wrote him the cheerfullest 
of letters, and actually invited him to 
breakfast. The letter is still extant ; but 
the verses were so littie the precursor of 
fame that the youth's subsequent history 

234 



Customary Correspondent 

is to this day unknown. It was with truth 
that Byron said of himself : " I am really 
a civil and polite person, and do hate 
pain when it can be avoided." 

Scott was also civil and polite, and 
his heart beat kindly for every species of 
bore. As a consequence, the world be- 
stowed its tediousness upon him, to the 
detriment of his happiness and health. 
Ingenious jokers translated his verses 
into Latin, and then wrote to accuse him 
of plagiarizing from Vida. Proprietors of 
patent medicines offered him fabulous 
sums to link his fame with theirs. Modest 
ladies proposed that he should publish 
their effusions as his own, and share the 
profits. Poets demanded that he should 
find publishers for their epics, and dram- 
atists that he should find managers for 
their plays. Critics pointed out to him 
his anachronisms, and well-intentioned 
readers set him right on points of moral- 
ity and law. When he was old, and ill, 
and ruined, there was yet no respite 

235 



Americans and Others 

from the curse of correspondents. A year 
before his death he wrote dejectedly in 
his journal : — "A fleece of letters which 
must be answered, I suppose ; all from per- 
sons — my zealous admirers, of course 
— who expect me to make up whatever 
losses have been their lot, raise them to a 
desirable rank, and stand their protector 
and patron. I must, they take it for 
granted, be astonished at having an ad- 
dress from a stranger. On the contrary, 
I should be astonished if one of these 
extravagant episties came from anybody 
who had the least title to enter into cor- 
respondence." 

And there are people who believe, or 
who pretend to believe, that fallen hu- 
man nature can be purged and amended 
by half-rate telegrams, and a telephone 
ringing in the hall. Rather let us abandon 
illusions, and echo Carlyle's weary cry, 
when he heard the postman knocking 
at his door : " Just Heavens I Does lit- 
erature lead to this 1 " 



The Benefactor 

** He is a good man who can receive a gift well.** 
— Emsrson. 

THERE is a sacredness of hu- 
mility in such an admission 
which wins pardon for all the 
unlovely things which Emerson has 
crowded into a few pages upon " Gifts." 
Recognizing that his own goodness 
stopped short of this exalted point, he 
pauses for a moment in his able and bit- 
ter self-defence to pay tribute to a gen- 
erosity he is too honest to claim. After 
all, who but Charles Lamb ever did re- 
ceive gifts well ? Scott tried, to be sure. 
No man ever sinned less than he against 
the law of kindness. But Lamb did not 
need to try. He had it in his heart of 
gold to feel pleasure in the presents 
which his friends took pleasure in giving 
him. The character and quality of the 

237 



Americans and Others 

gifts were not determining factors. We 
cannot analyze this disposition. We can 
only admire it from afar. 

** I look upon it as a point of morality 
to be obliged to those who endeavour to 
oblige me," says Sterne ; and the senti- 
ment, like most of Sterne's sentiments, 
is remarkably graceful. It has all the 
freshness of a principle never fagged out 
by practice. The rugged fashion in which 
Emerson lived up to his burdensome 
ideals prompted him to less engaging 
utterances. '' It is not the office of a man 
to receive gifts," he writes viciously. 
" How dare you give them ? We wish to 
be self-sustained. We do not quite for- 
give a giver. The hand that feeds us is 
in some danger of being bitten." 

Carlyle is almost as disquieting. He 
searches for, and consequentiy finds, un- 
worthy feelings both in the man who 
gives, and holds himself to be a bene- 
factor, and in the man who receives, and 
burdens himself with a sense of obliga- 

238 



The Benefactor 

tion. He professes a stem dislike for 
presents, fearing lest they should under- 
mine his moral stability ; but a man so 
up in morals must have been well aware 
that he ran no great risk of parting with 
his stock in trade. He probably hated 
getting what he did not want, and find- 
ing himself expected to be grateful for 
it. This is a sentiment common to lesser 
men than Carlyle, and as old as the old- 
est gift-bearer. It has furnished food for 
fables, inspiration for satirists, and cruel 
stories at which the light-hearted laugh. 
Mr. James Payn used to tell the tale of 
an advocate who unwisely saved a client 
from the gallows which he should have 
graced ; and the man, inspired by the 
best of motives, sent his benefactor from 
the West Indies a case of pineapples in 
which a colony of centipedes had bred 
so generously that they routed every 
servant from the unfortunate lawyer's 
house, and dwelt hideously and perma- 
nently in his kitchen. "A purchase is 

239 



Americans and Others 

cheaper than a gift/' says a wily old Ital- 
ian proverb, steeped in the wisdom of 
the centuries. 

The principle which prompts the selec- 
tion of gifts — since selected they all are 
by some one — is for the most part a mys- 
tery. I never but once heard any reason- 
able solution, and that was volunteered 
by an old lady who had been listening in 
silence to a conversation on the engross- 
ing subject of Christmas presents. It 
was a conversation at once animated and 
depressing. The time was at hand when 
none of us could hope to escape these 
tokens of regard, and the elaborate and 
ingenious character of their unfitness 
was frankly and fairly discussed. What 
baffled us was the theory of choice. Sud- 
denly the old lady flooded this dark prob- 
lem with light by observing that she al- 
ways purchased her presents at bazaars. 
She said she knew they were useless, 
and that nobody wanted them, but that 
she considered it her duty to help the 

240 



The Benefactor 

bazaars. She had the air of one conscious 
of well-doing, and sure of her reward. It 
did not seem to occur to her that the re- 
ward should, in justice, be passed on 
with the purchases. The necessities of 
charitable organizations called for a sac- 
rifice, and, rising to the emergency, she 
sacrificed her friends. 

A good many years have passed over 
our heads since Thackeray launched his 
invectives at the Christmas tributes he 
held in heartiest hatred, — the books 
which every season brought in its train, 
and which were never meant to be read. 
Their mission was fulfilled when they 
were sent by aunt to niece, by uncle to 
nephew, by friend to hapless friend. 
They were " gift-books " in the exclusive 
sense of the word. Thackeray was wont 
to declare that these vapid, brightly 
bound volumes played havoc with the 
happy homes of England, just as the New 
Year bonbons played havoc with the 
homes of France. Perhaps, of the two 

241 



Americans and Others 

countries, France suffered less. The candy 
soon disappeared, leaving only impaired 
digestions in its wake. The books re- 
mained to encumber shelves, and bore 
humanity afresh. 

** Moiyje dis que Us bonbons 
Valent mieux que la raison " / 

and they are at least less permanently 
oppressive. "When thou makest pres- 
ents," said old John Fuller, " let them be 
of such things as will last long ; to the 
end that they may be in some sort im- 
mortal, and may frequently refresh the 
memory of the receiver.'* But this excel- 
lent advice — excellent for the simple and 
spacious age in which it was written — 
presupposes the " immortal " presents to 
wear well. Theologians teach us that im- 
mortality is not necessarily a blessing. 

A vast deal of ingenuity is wasted 
every year in evoking the undesirable, 
in the careful construction of objects 
which burden life. Frankenstein was a 
large rather than an isolated example. 

242 



The Benefactor 

The civilized world so teems with elab- 
orate and unlovely inutilities, with things 
which seem foreign to any reasonable 
conditions of existence, that we are some- 
times disposed to envy the savage who 
wears all his simple wardrobe without 
being covered, and who sees all his sim- 
ple possessions in a comer of his empty 
hut. What pleasant spaces meet the 
savage eye ! What admirable vacancies 
soothe the savage soul 1 No embroidered 
bag is needed to hold his sponge or his 
slippers. No painted box is destined for 
his postal cards. No decorated tablet 
waits for his laundry list. No ornate wall- 
pocket yawns for his unpaid bills. He 
smokes without cigarette-cases. He 
dances without cotillion favours. He en- 
joys all rational diversions, unf retted by 
the superfluities with which we have 
weighted them. Life, notwithstanding 
its pleasures, remains endurable to him. 
Above all, he does not undermine his 
own moral integrity by vicarious benevo- 

243 



Americans and Others 

lence, by helping the needy at his friend's 
expense. The great principle of giving 
away what one does not want to keep 
is probably as familiar to the savage as 
to his civilized, or semi-civilized brother. 
That vivacious traveller, Pfere Hue, tells 
us he has seen a Tartar chief at dinner 
gravely hand over to an underling a 
piece of grisde he found himself unable to 
masticate, and that the gift was received 
with every semblance of gratitude and 
delight But there is a simple straight- 
forwardness about an act like this which 
commends it to our understanding. The 
Tartar did not assume the gristie to be 
palatable. He did not veil his motives 
for parting with it. He did not expand 
with the emotions of a philanthropist 
And he did not expect the Heavens to 
smile upon his deed. 

One word must be said in behalf of the 
punctilious giver, of the mah who repays a 
gift as scrupulously as he returns a blow. 
He wants to please, but he is bafHed by 

244 



The Benefactor 

not knowing, and by not being sympa- 
thetic enough to divine, what his inarticu- 
late friend desires. And if he does know, 
he may still vacillate between his friend's 
sense of the becoming and his own. The 
"Spectator," in a mood of unwonted 
subtlety, tells us that there is a "mild 
treachery " in giving what we feel to be 
bad, because we are aware that the re- 
cipient will think it very good. If, for ex- 
ample, we hold garnets to be ugly and 
vulgar, we must not send them to a 
friend who considers them rich and splen- 
did. "A gift should represent common 
ground." 

This is so well said that it sounds like 
the easy thing it is n't. Which of us has 
not nobly striven, and ignobly failed, to 
preserve our honest purpose without 
challenging the taste of our friends? It 
is hard to tell what people really prize. 
Heine begged for a button from George 
Sand's trousers, and who shall say 
whether enthusiasm or malice prompted 

245 



Americans and Others 

the request? Mr. Oscar Browning, who 
as Master at Eton miist have known 
whereof he spoke, insisted that it was a 
mistake to give a boy a well-bound book 
if you expected him to read it Yet bind- 
ing plays a conspicuous part in the selec- 
tion of Christmas and birthday presents. 
Dr. Johnson went a step farther, and said 
that nobody wanted to read any book 
which was given to him; — the mere fact 
that it was given, instead of being bought, 
borrowed, or ravished from a friend's 
shelves, militated against its readable 
qualities. Perhaps the Doctor was think- 
ing of authors' copies. Otherwise the 
remark is the most discouraging one on 
record. 

Yet when all the ungracious things 
have been said and forgotten, when 
the hard old proverbs have exhausted 
their unwelcome wisdom, and we have 
smiled wearily over the deeper cynicisms 
of Richelieu and Talleyrand, where shall 
we turn for relief but to Emerson, who has 

246 



The Benefactor 

atoned in his own fashion for the harsh- 
ness of his own words. It is not only that 
he recognizes the goodness of the man 
who receives a gift well ; but he sees, and 
sees clearly, that there can be no question 
between friends of giving or receiving, no 
possible room for generosity or gratitude. 
*' The gift to be true must be the flowing 
of the giver unto me, correspondent to my 
flowing unto him. When the waters are 
at a level, then my goods pass to him, 
and his to me. All his are mine, all mine, 
his.'' 

Critics have been disposed to think that 
this is an elevation too lofty for plain 
human beings to climb, an air too rari- 
fied for them to breathe ; and that it ill 
befitted a man who churlishly resented 
the simple, stupid kindnesses of life, to 
take so sublime a tone, to claim so fine 
a virtue. We cannot hope to scale great 
moral heights by ignoring petty obliga- 
tions. 

Yet Emerson does not go a step be- 

247 



Americans and Others 

yond Plato in his conception of the " level 
waters " of friendship. He states his po- 
sition lucidly, and with a rational under- 
standing of all that it involves. His vision 
is wide enough to embrace its everlasting 
truth. Plato says the same thing in simpler 
language. He offers his truth as self-evi- 
dent, and in no need of demonstration. 
When Lysis and Menexenus greet So- 
crates at the gymnasia, the philosopher 
asks which of the two youths is the 
elder. 

" ' That,' said Menexenus, * is a matter 
of dispute between us.' 

" ' And which is the nobler ? Is that 
also a matter of dispute ? ' 

"*Yes, certainly.' 

" ' And another disputed point is which 
is the fairer ? ' 

" The two boys laughed. 

" ' I shall not ask which is the richer, 
for you are friends, are you not ? ' 

" ' We are friends.' 

" ' And friends have all things in com- 

248 



The Benefactor 

mon, so that one of you can be no richer 
than the other, if you say truly that you 
are friends.' 

"They assented, and at that moment 
Menexenus was called away by some one 
who came and said that the master of the 
gymnasia wanted him." ' 

This is all. To Plato's way of thinking, 
the situation explained itself. The two 
boys could not share their beauty nor 
their strength, but money was a thing to 
pass from hand to hand. It was not, and 
it never could be, a matter for competi- 
tion. The last lesson taught an Athenian 
youth was the duty of outstripping his 
neighbour in the hard race for wealth. 

And where shall we turn for a practi- 
cal illustration of friendship, as conceived 
by Emerson and Plato ? Where shall we 
see the level waters, the " mine is thine" 
which we think too exalted for plain liv- 
ing ? No need to search far, and no need 
to search amid the good and great It is 

* Lysis. Translated by Jowett. 
249 



Americans and Others 

a pleasure to find what we seek in the 
annals of the flagrantly sinhil, of that no* 
torious Duke of Queensberry, " Old Q," 
who has been so liberally and justly cen- 
siu-ed by Wordsworth and Bums, by 
Leigh Hunt and Su- George Treveljran, 
and who was, in truth, gamester, rou^, — 
and friend In the last capacity he was 
called upon to listen to the woes of George 
Selwyn, who, having lost at Newmarket 
more money than he could possibly hope 
to pay, saw ruin staring him in the face. 
There is in Selwyn's letter a note of elo- 
quent misery. He was, save when lulled 
to sleep in Parliament, a man of many 
words. There is in the letter of Lord 
March (he had not yet succeeded to the 
Queensberry tide and estates) nothing 
but a quiet exposition of Plato's theory 
of friendship. Selwyn's debts and his 
friend's money are intercommunicable. 
The amount required has been placed 
that morning at the banker's. '' I depend 
more," writes Lord March, " upon the 

250 



The Benefactor 

continuance of our friendship than upon 
anything else in the world, because I 
have so many reasons to know you, and 
I am sure I know myself. There will be 
no bankruptcy without we are bankrupt 
together^ 

Here are the waters flowing on a level, 
flowing between two men of the world ; 
one of them great enough to give, with- 
out deeming himself a benefactor, and 
the other good enough to receive a gift 
well. 



The Condescension of 
Borrowers 

** II n'est si riche qui quelquefois ne doibve. U 
n'est si pauvre de qui quelquefois on ne puisse em- 
prunter. " — PantagrueL 

I LENT my umbrella," said my 
friend, '' to my cousin, Maria. I was 
compelled to lend it to her because 
she could not, or would not, leave my 
house in the rain without it. I had need 
of that umbrella, and I tried to make it 
as plain as the amenities of language 
permitted that I expected to have it re- 
turned. Maria said superciliously that 
she hated to see other people's umbrellas 
littering the house, which gave me a 
gleam of hope. Two months later I found 
my property in the hands of her ten- 
year-old son, who was being marshalled 
with his brothers and sisters to dancing- 
school. In the first joyful flash of recog- 

252 



Condescension of Borrowers 

nition I cried, 'Oswald, that is my 
umbrella you are carrying ! ' whereupon 
Maria said still more superciliously than 
before, 'Oh, yes, don't you remember?' 
(as if reproaching me for my forgetful- 
ness) — ' you gave it to me that Saturday 
I lunched with you, and it rained so 
heavily. The boys carry it to school. 
Where there are children, you can't have 
too many old umbrellas at hand. They 
lose them so fast.' She spoke," continued 
my friend impressively, " as if she were 
harbouring my umbrella from pure kind- 
ness, and because she did not like to 
wound my feelings by sending it back 
to me. She made a virtue of giving it 
shelter." 

This is the arrogance which places the 
borrower, as Charles Lamb discovered 
long ago, among the great ones of the 
earth, among those whom their brethren 
serve. Lamb loved to contrast the " in- 
stinctive sovereignty," the frank and 
open bearing of the man who borrows 

253 



Americans and Others 

with the "lean and suspicious" aspect 
of the man who lends. He stood lost in 
admiration before'the great borrowers of 
the world, — Alcibiades, Falstaff, Steele, 
and Sheridan ; an incomparable quar- 
tette, to which might be added the shin- 
ing names of William Godwin and Leigh 
Hunt. All the characteristic qualities of 
the class were united, indeed, in Leigh 
Hunt, as in no other single represent- 
ative. Sheridan was an imrivalled com- 
panion, — could talk .seven hours without 
making even Byron yawn. Steele was 
the most lovable of spendthrifts. Lend- 
ing to these men was but a form of in- 
vestment. They paid in a coinage of 
their own. But Leigh Hunt combined in 
the happiest manner a readiness to ex- 
tract favours with a confirmed habit of 
never acknowledging the smallest obli- 
gation for them. He is a perfect example 
of the condescending borrower, of the 
man who permits his friends, as a pleas- 
ure to themselves, to relieve his necessi- 

254 



Condescension of Borrowers 

ties, and who knows nothing of grati- 
tude or loyalty. 

It would be interesting to calculate the 
amount of money which Hunt's friends 
and acquaintances contributed to his sup- 
port in life. Shelley gave him at one time 
fourteen hundred pounds, an amount 
which the poet could ill spare ; and, when 
he had no more to give, wrote in misery 
of spirit to Byron, begging a loan for his 
friend, and promising to repay it, as he 
feels tolerably sure that Hunt never will. 
Byron, generous at first, wearied after a 
time of his position in Hunt's commis- 
sariat (it was like pulling a man out of 
a river, he wrote to Moore, only to see 
him jump in again), and coldly with- 
drew. His withdrawal occasioned incon- 
venience, and has been sharply criticised. 
Hunt, says Sir Leslie Stephen, loved a 
cheerful giver, and Byron's obvious reluc- 
tance struck him as being in bad taste. 
His biographers, one and all, have sympa- 
thized with this point of view. Even Mr. 

255 



Americans and Others 

Frederick Locker, from whom one would 
have expected a different verdict, has 
recorded his conviction that Hunt had 
probably been " sorely tried " by Byron. 
It is characteristic of the preordained 
borrower, of the man who simply fulfils 
his destiny in life, that not his obligations 
only, but his anxieties and mortifications 
are shouldered by other men. Hunt was 
care-free and light-hearted ; but there is 
a note akin to anguish in Shelle/s peti- 
tion to Byron, and in his shamefaced ad- 
mission that he is himself too poor to 
relieve his friend's necessities. The cor- 
respondence of William Grodwin's emi- 
nent contemporaries teem with projects 
to alleviate Godwin's needs. His debts 
were everybody's affair but his own. Sir 
James Mackintosh wrote to Rogers in 
the autumn of 1815, suggesting that 
Byron might be the proper person to pay 
them. Rogers, enchanted with the idea, 
wrote to Byron, proposing that the pur- 
chase money of " The Siege of Corinth " 

256 



Condescension of Borrowers 

be devoted to this gbod purpose. Byron, 
with less enthusiasm, but resigned, wrote 
to Murray, directing him to forward the 
six hundred pounds to Godwin; and 
Murray, having always the courage of 
his convictions, wrote back, flatiy refus- 
ing to do anything of the kind. In the 
end, Byron used the money to pay his 
own debts, thereby disgusting every- 
body but his creditors. 

Six years later, however, we find him 
contributing to a fund which tireless 
philanthropists were raising for God- 
win's relief. On this occasion all men of 
letters, poor as well as rich, were pressed 
into active service. Even Lamb, who had 
nothing of his own, wrote to the painter, 
Haydon, who had not a penny in the 
world, and begged him to beg Mrs. 
Coutts to pay Godwin's rent. He also 
confessed that he had sent "a very re- 
spectful letter " — on behalf of the rent 
— to Sir Walter Scott ; and he explained 
naively that Godwin did not concern 

257 



Americans and Others 

himself personally in the matter, because 
he " left all to his Committee," — a peace- 
ful thing to do. 

But how did Godwin come to have a 
"committee" to raise money for him, 
when other poor devils had to raise it 
for themselves, or do without? He was 
not well-beloved. On the contrary, he 
bored all whom he did not affront. He 
was not grateful. On the contrary, he 
held gratitude to be a vice, as tending 
to make men " grossly partial " to those 
who have befriended them. His conde* 
scension kept pace with his demands. 
After his daughter's flight with Shelley, 
he expressed his just resentment by 
refusing to accept Shelley's cheque for 
a thousand pounds unless it were made 
payable to a third party, unless he could 
have the money without the formality of 
an acceptance. Like the great lords of 
Picardy, who had the " right of credit " 
from their loyal subjects, Godwin claimed 
his dues from every chance acquaint- 

258 



Condescension of Borrowers 

ance. Crabb Robinson introduced him 
one evening to a gendeman named 
Rough. The next day both Godwin and 
Rough called upon their host, each man 
expressing his regard for the other, and 
each asking Robinson if he thought the 
other would be a likely person to lend 
him fifty pounds. 

There are critics who hold that Hay- 
don excelled all other borrowers known 
to fame; but his is not a career upon 
which an admirer of the art can look 
with pleasure. Haydon's debts hunted 
him like hounds, and if he pursued 
borrowing as a means of livelihood, — 
more lucrative than painting pictures 
which nobody would buy, — it was only 
because no third avocation presented it- 
self as a possibility. He is not to be com- 
pared for a moment with a true expert 
like Sheridan, who borrowed for borrow- 
ing's sake, and without any sordid mo- 
tive connected with rents or butchers' 
bills. Haydon would, indeed, part with 

259 



Americans and Others 

his money as readily as if it belonged to 
him. He would hear an " inward voice" 
in church, urging him to give his last 
sovereign ; and, having obeyed this voice 
*' with as pure a feeling as ever animated 
a human heart," he had no resource but 
immediately to borrow another. It would 
have been well for him if he could have 
followed on such occasions the mem- 
orable example of Lady Cook, who was 
so impressed by a begging sermon that 
she borrowed a sovereign from Sydney 
Smith to put into the offertory ; and — 
the gold once between her fingers — 
found herself equally unable to give it 
or to return it, so went home, a pound 
richer for her charitable impulse. 

Haydon, too, would rob Peter to pay 
Paul, and rob Paul without paying Pe- 
ter ; but it was all after an intricate and 
troubled fashion of his own. On one oc- 
casion he borrowed ten pounds from 
Webb. Seven pounds he used to satisfy 
another creditor, from whom, on the 

260 



Condescension of Borrowers 

strength of this payment, he borrowed 
ten pounds more to meet an impending 
bill. It sounds like a particularly confus- 
ing game ; but it was a game played in 
dead earnest, and without the humorous 
touch which makes the charm of Lady 
Cook's, or of Sheridan's methods. Hay- 
don would have been deeply grateful to 
his benefactors, had he not always stood 
in need of favours to come. Sheridan 
might perchance have been grateful, 
could he have remembered who his ben- 
efactors were. He laid the world under 
tribute ; and because he had an aversion 
to opening his mail, — an aversion with 
which it is impossible not to sympathize, 
-^ he frequentiy made no use of the trib- 
ute when it was paid. Moore tells us that 
James Wesley once saw among a pile of 
papers on Sheridan's desk an unopened 
letter of his own, containing a ten-pound 
note, which he had lent Sheridan some 
weeks before. Wesley quietly took pos- 
session of the letter and the money, 

261 



Americans and Others 

thereby raising a delicate, and as yet 
unsetded, question of morality. Had he 
a right to those ten pounds because they 
had once been his, or were they not 
rather Sheridan's property, destined in 
the natural and proper order of things 
never to be returned. 

Yet men, even men of letters, have 
been known to pay their debts, and to 
restore borrowed property. Moore paid 
Lord Lansdowne every penny of the 
generous sum advanced by that noble- 
man after the defalcation of Moore's dep- 
uty in Bermuda. Dr. Johnson paid back 
ten pounds after a lapse of twenty years, 
— a pleasant shock to the lender, — and 
on his death-bed (having fewer sins than 
most of us to recall) begged Sir Joshua 
Reynolds to forgive him a trifling loan. 
It was the too honest return of a pair of 
borrowed sheets (unwashed) which first 
chilled Pope's friendship for Lady Mary 
Wortley Montagu. That excellent gossip. 
Miss Letitia Matilda Hawkins, who stands 

262 



Condescension of Borrowers 

responsible for this anecdote, lamented 
all her life that her father, Sir John 
Hawkins, could never remember which 
of the friends borrowed and which lent 
the offending sheets; but it is a point 
easily settled in our minds. Pope was 
probably the last man in Christendom 
to have been guilty of such a misde- 
meanour, and Lady Mary was certainly 
the last woman in Christendom to have 
been affronted by it. Like Dr. Johnson, 
she had "no passion for clean linen.*' 

Coleridge, though he went through 
life leaning his inert weight on other 
men's shoulders, did remember in some 
mysterious fashion to return the books 
he borrowed, enriched often, as Lamb 
proudly records, with marginal notes 
which tripled their value. His conduct in 
this regard was all the more praise- 
worthy inasmuch as the cobweb stat- 
utes which define books as personal 
property have never met with literal ac- 
ceptance. Lamb's theory that, books be- 

263 



Americans and Others 

long with the highest propriety to those 
who understand them best (a theory 
often advanced m defence of depreda- 
tions which Lamb would have scorned to 
commit), was popular before the lament- 
able invention of printing. The library 
of LucuIIus was, we are told, " open to 
all," and it would be interesting to know 
how many precious manuscripts remained 
ultimately in the great patrician's villa. 

Richard Heber, that most princely of 
collectors, so well understood the perils 
of his position that he met them bravely 
by buying three copies of every book, — 
one for show, one for use, and one for 
the service of his friends. The position 
of the show-book seems rather melan- 
choly, but perhaps, in time, it replaced 
the borrowed volume. Heber's generos- 
ity has been nobly praised by Scott, who 
contrasts the hard-heartedness of other 
bibliophiles, those "gripple niggards" 
who preferred holding on to their treas- 
ures, with his friend's careless liberality. 

264 



Condescension of Borrowers 



** Thy volumes, open as thj heart, 
Delight, amusement, science, art, 
To every ear and eye impart. 
Yet who, of all who thus employ them. 
Can, like the owner's self, enjoy them ? 



tt 



The " gripple niggards " might have 
pleaded feebly in their own behalf that 
they could not all afford to spend, like 
Heber, a hundred thousand pounds in 
the purchase of books ; and that an oc- 
casional reluctance to part with some 
hard-earned, hard^won volume might be 
pardonable in one who could not hope 
to replace it Lamb's books were the 
shabbiest in Christendom ; yet how keen 
was his pang when Charles Kemble car- 
ried off the letters of "that princely 
woman, the thrice noble Margaret New- 
castle," an "illustrious folio" which he 
well knew Kemble would never read. 
How bitterly he bewailed his rashness in 
extolling the beauties of Sir Thomas 
Browne's " Urn Burial " to a guest who 
was so moved by this eloquence that he 
promptly borrowed the volume. "But 

265 



Americans and Others 

so/* sighed Lamb, *' have I known a fool- 
ish lover to praise his mistress in the 
presence of a rival more qualified to carry 
her off than himself." 

Johnson cherished a dim conviction 
that because he read, and Garrick did 
not, the proper place for Garrick's books 
was on his — Johnson's — bookshelves ; a 
point which could never be settled be- 
tween the two friends, and which came 
near to wrecking their friendship. Gar- 
rick loved books with the chilly yet im- 
perative love of the collector. Johnson 
loved them as he loved his soul. Gar- 
rick took pride in their sumptuousness, 
in their immaculate, virginal splendour. 
Johnson gathered them to his heart with 
scant regard for outward magnificence, 
for the glories of calf and vellum. Gar- 
rick bought books. Johnson borrowed 
them. Each considered that he had a 
prior right to the objects of his legitimate 
affection. We, looking back with soft- 
ened hearts, are fain to think that we 

266 



Condescension of Borrowers 

should have held our volumes doubly 
dear if they had lain for a time by John- 
son's humble hearth, if he had pored 
over them at three o'clock in the morn- 
ing, and had left sundry tokens — grease- 
spots and spatterings of snuff — upon 
many a spodess page. But it is hardly 
fair to censure Garrick for not dilating 
with these emotions. 

Johnson's habit of flinging the volumes 
which displeased him into remote and 
dusty comers of the room was ill cal- 
culated to inspire confidence, and his 
powers of procrastination were never 
more marked than in the matter of re- 
storing borrowed books. We know from 
Cradock's " Memoirs " how that gende- 
man, having induced Lord Harborough 
to lend him a superb volume of manu- 
scripts, containing the poems of James the 
First, proceeded to re-lend this priceless 
treasure to Johnson. When it was not 
returned — as of course it was not — he 
wrote an urgent letter, and heard to his 

267 



Americans and Others 

dismay that Johnson was not only unable 
to find the book, but that he could not re- 
member having ever received it The de- 
spairing Cradock applied to all his friends 
for help ; and George Steevens, who had 
a useful habit of looking about him, sug- 
gested that a sealed packet, which he 
had several times observed lying under 
Johnson's ponderous inkstand, might 
possibly contain the lost manuscript. 
Even with this ray of hope for guidance, 
it never seemed to occur to any one to 
storm Johnson's fortress, and rescue the 
imprisoned volume ; but after the Doc- 
tor's death, two years later, Cradock 
made a formal application to the execu- 
tors ; and Lord Harborough's property 
was discovered under the inkstand, un- 
opened, unread, and consequendy, as by 
a happy miracle, uninjured. 

Such an incident must needs win par- 
don for Garrick's churlishness in defend- 
ing his possessions. "The history of 
book-collecting," says a caustic critic, 

268 



Condescension of Borrowers 

'* is a history relieved but rarely by acts 
of pure and undiluted unselfishness." 
This is true, but are there not virtues so 
heroic that plain human nature can ill 
aspire to compass them 7 

There is something piteous in the fu- 
tile efforts of reluctant lenders to save 
their property from depredation. They 
place their reliance upon artless devices 
which never yet were known to stay the 
marauder's hand. They have their names 
and addresses engraved on foolish litde 
plates, which, riveted to their umbrellas, 
will, they think, suffice to insure the 
safety of these useful articles. As well 
might the border farmer have engraved 
his name and address on the collars of 
his grazing herds, in the hope that the 
riever would respect this symbol of auth- 
ority. The history of book-plates is large- 
ly the history of borrower versus lender. 
The orderly mind is wont to believe that 
a distinctive mark, irrevocably attached 
to every volume, will insure permanent 

269 



Americans and Others 

possession. Mr. Gosse, for example, has 
expressed a touching faith in the efficacy 
of the book-plate. He has but to explain 
that he " makes it a rule " never to lend 
a volume thus decorated, and the would- 
be borrower bows to this rule as to a 
decree of fate. " To have a book-plate/' 
he joyfully observes, " gives a collector 
great serenity and confidence." 

Is it possible that the world has grown 
virtuous without our observing it ? Can 
it be that the old stalwart race of book- 
borrowers, those "spoilers of the sjrm- 
metry of shelves," are foiled by so child- 
ish an expedient 7 Imagine Dr. Johnson 
daunted by a scrap of pasted paper ! Or 
Coleridge, who seldom went through the 
formality of askmg leave, but borrowed 
armfuls of books in the absence of their 
legitimate owners! How are we to ac- 
count for the presence of book-plates — 
quite a pretty collection at times — on 
the shelves of men who possess no such 
toys of their own ? When I was a girl I 

270 



Condescension of Borrowers 

had access to a small and well-chosen li- 
brary (not gready exceeding Montaigne's 
fourscore volumes), each book enriched 
with an appropriate device of scaly 
dragon guarding the apples of Hesper- 
ides. Beneath the dragon was the motto 
(Johnsonian in form if not in substance), 
"Honour and Obligation demand the 
prompt return of borrowed Books.' ' These 
words ate into my innocent soul, and 
lent a pang to the sweetness of posses- 
sion. Doubts as to the exact nature of 
" prompt return " made me painfully un- 
certain as to whether a month, a week, 
or a day were the limit which Honour 
and Obligation had set for me. But other 
and older borrowers were less sensitive, 
and I have reason to believe that — 
books being a rarity in that litde South- 
em town — most of the volumes were 
eventually absorbed by the gaping shel ves 
of neighbours. Perhaps even now (their 
generous owner long since dead) these 
worn copies of Boswell, of Elia, of Her- 

271 



Americans and Others 

rick, and Moore, may still stand forgot- 
ten in dark and dusty comers, like gems 
that magpies hide. 

It is vain to struggle with fate, with the 
elements, and with the borrower; it is 
folly to claim immunity from a funda- 
mental law, to boast of our brief exemp- 
tion from the common lot " Lend there- 
fore cheerfully, O man ordained to lend. 
When thou seest the proper authority 
coming, meet it smilingly, as it were half- 
way." Resistance to an appointed force 
is but a futile waste of strength. 



The Grocer's Cat 

Of all animals, the cat alone attains to the Con- 
templative Life. — Andrew Lang. 

THE grocer's window is not one 
of those gay and glittering en- 
closures which display only the 
luxuries of the table, and which give us 
the impression that there are favoured 
classes subsisting exclusively upon Mala- 
ga raisins, Russian chocolates, and Nu- 
remberg gingerbread. It is an unassum- 
ing window, filled with canned goods 
and breakfast foods, wrinkled prunes 
devoid of succulence, and boxes of starch 
and candles. Its only ornament is the 
cat, and his beauty is more apparent to 
the artist than to the fancier. His splen- 
did stripes, black and grey and tawny, 
are too wide for noble lineage. He has 
a broad benignant brow, like Benja- 
min Franklin's ; but his brooding eyes, 

273 



Americans and Others 

golden, unfathomable, deny benignancy. 
He is large and sleek, — the grocery mice 
must be many, and of an appetizing fat- 
ness, — and I presume he devotes his 
nights to the pleasures of the chase. His 
days are spent in contemplation, in a 
serene and wonderful stillness, which iso- 
lates him from the bustling vulgarities of 
the street 

Past the window streams the fretful 
crowd ; in and out of the shop step loud- 
voiced customers. The cat is as remote 
as if he were drowsing by the waters of 
the Nile. Pedestrians pause to admire 
him, and many of them endeavour, with 
well-meant but futile familiarity, to win 
some notice in return. They tap on 
the window pane, and say, "Halloo, 
Pussy 1 " He does not turn his head, nor 
lift his lustrous eyes. They tap harder, 
and with more ostentatious friendliness. 
The stone cat of Thebes could not pay 
less attention. It is difficult for human 
beings to believe that their regard can be 

274 



The Grocer's Cat 

otherwise than flattering to an animal; 
but I did see one man intelligent enough 
to receive this impression. He was a 
decent and a good-tempered young per- 
son, and he had beaten a prolonged tat- 
too on the glass with the handle of his 
umbrella, murmuring at the same time 
vague words of cajolery. Then, as the 
cat remained motionless, absorbed in 
revery, and seemingly unconscious of his 
unwarranted attentions, he turned to me, 
a new light dawning in his eyes. " Thinks 
itself some," he said, and I nodded ac- 
quiescence. As well try to patronize the 
Sphinx as to patronize a grocer's cat. 

Now, surely this attitude on the part 
of a small and helpless beast, dependent 
upon our bounty for food and shelter, 
and upon our sense of equity for the 
right to live, is worthy of note, and, to 
the generous mind, is worthy of respect 
Yet there are people who most ungener- 
ously resent it. They say the cat is treach- 
erous and ungrateful, by which they 

275 



Americans and Others 

mean that she does not relish unsolicited 
fondling, and that, like Mr. Chesterton, 
she will not recognize imaginary obliga- 
tions. If we keep a cat because there are 
mice in our kitchen or rats in our cellar, 
what claim have we to gratitude ? If we 
keep a cat for the sake of her beauty, 
and because our hearth is but a poor 
affair without her, she repays her debt 
with interest when she dozes by our fire. 
She is the most decorative creature the 
domestic world can show. She harmon- 
izes with the kitchen's homely comfort, 
and with the austere seclusion of the 
library. She gratifies our sense of fitness 
and our sense of distinction, if we chance 
to possess these qualities. Did not Isabella 
d' Este, Marchioness of Mantua, and the 
finest exponent of distinction in her lordly 
age, send far and wide for cats to grace her 
palace ? Did she not instruct her agents 
to make especial search through the 
Venetian convents, where might be found 
the deep-furred pussies of Syria and Thi- 

276 



The Grocer's Cat 

bet ? Alas for the poor nuns, whose cher- 
ished pets were snatched away to gratify 
the caprice of a great and grasping lady, 
who habitually coveted sill that was 
beautiful in the world. 

The cat seldom invites affection, and 
still more seldom responds to it. A well- 
bred tolerance is her nearest approach 
to demonstration. The dog strives with 
pathetic insistence to break down the 
barriers between his intelligence and his 
master's, to understand and to be under- 
stood. The wise cat cherishes her isola- 
tion, and permits us to play but a second- 
ary part in her solitary and meditative 
life. Her intelligence, less facile than the 
dog's, and far less highly differentiated, 
owes little to our tutelage ; her character 
has not been moulded by our hands. 
The changing centuries have left no 
mark upon her ; and, from a past incon- 
ceivably remote, she has come down to 
us, a creature self-absorbed and self- 
communing, undisturbed by our feverish 

277 



Americans and Others 

activity, a dreamer of dreams, a lover of 
the mysteries of night 

And yet a friend. No one who knows 
anything about the cat will deny her ca- 
pacity for friendship. Rationally, without 
enthusiasm, without illusions, she offers 
us companionship on terms of equal- 
ity. She will not come when she is sum- 
moned, — unless the summons be for din- 
ner, — but she will come of her own sweet 
will, and bear us comf)any for hours, 
sleeping contentedly in her armchair, or 
watching with half-shut eyes the quiet 
progress of our work. A lover of routine, 
she expects to find us in the same place 
at the same hour every day ; and when 
her expectations are fulfilled (cats have 
some secret method of their own for tell- 
ing time), she purrs approval of our 
punctuality. What she detests are noise, 
confusion, people who busde in and out 
of rooms, and the tmpardonable intru- 
sions of the housemaid. On those un- 
happy days when I am driven hrom my 

278 



The Grocer's Cat 

desk by the iron determination of this 
maid to " clean up," my cat is as comfort- 
less as I am. Companions in exile, we 
wander aimlessly to and fro, lamenting 
our lost hours. I cannot explain to Lux 
that the fault is none of mine, and I am 
sure that she holds me to blame. 

There is something indescribably sweet 
in the quiet, self-respecting friendliness 
of my cat, in her marked predilection for 
my society. The absence of exuberance 
on her part, and the restraint I put upon 
myself, lend an element of dignity to our 
intercourse. Assured that I will not pre- 
sume too far on her good nature, that I 
will not indulge in any of those gross 
familiarities, those boisterous gambols 
which delight the heart of a dog. Lux 
yields herself more and more passively to 
my persuasions. She will permit an occa- 
sional caress, and acknowledge it with a 
perfunctory purr. She will manifest a pat- 
ronizing interest in my work, stepping 
sedately among my papers, and now 

279 



Americans and Others 

and then putting her paw with infinite 
deliberation on tlie page I am writing, as 
though the smear thus contributed spelt, 
" Lux, her mark," and was a reward of 
merit But she never curls herself upon 
my desk, never usurps the place sacred 
to the memory of a far dearer cat Some 
invisible influence restrains her. When 
her tour of inspection is ended, she re- 
turns to her chair by my side, stretching 
herself luxuriously on her cushions, and 
watching with steady, sombre stare the 
inhibited spot, and the little grey phan- 
tom which haunts my lonely hours by 
right of my inalienable love. 

Lux is a lazy cat, wedded to a contem- 
plative life. She cares little for play, and 
nothing for work, — the appointed work 
of cats. The notion that she has a duty 
to perform, that she owes service to the 
home which shelters her, that only those 
who toil are worthy of their keep, has 
never entered her head. She is content 
to drink the cream of idleness, and she 

280 



The Grocer's Cat 

does this in a spirit of condescension, 
wonderful to behold. The dignified dis- 
taste with which she surveys a dinner 
not wholly to her liking, carries confu- 
sion to the hearts of her servitors. It 
is as though Lucullus, having ordered 
Neapolitan peacock, finds himself put off 
with nightingales' tongues. 

For my own part, I like to think that 
my beautiful and urbane companion is 
not a midnight assassin. Her profound 
and soulless indifference to mice pleases 
me better than it pleases my household. 
From an economic point of view. Lux is 
not worth her salt Huxley's cat, be it 
remembered, was never known to attack 
anything larger and fiercer than a but- 
terfly. " I doubt whether he has the heart 
to kill a mouse," wrote the proud pos- 
sessor of this prodigy ; " but I saw him 
catch and eat the first butterfly of the 
season, and I trust that the germ of 
courage thus manifested may develop 
with years into efficient mousing." 

281 



Americans and Others 

Even Huxley was disposed to take a 
utilitarian view of cathood. Even Cow- 
per, who owed to the frolics of his kitten 
a few hours' respite from melancholy, 
had no conception that his adult cat 
could do better service than slay rats. 
" I have a kitten, my dear/* he wrote to 
Lady Hesketh, " the drollest of all crea- 
tures that ever wore a cat's skin. Her 
gambols are incredible, and not to be 
described. She tumbles head over heels 
several times together. She la3rs her 
cheek to the ground, and humps her back 
at you with an air of most supreme 
disdain. From this posture she rises to 
dance on her hind feet, an exercise which 
she performs with all the grace imagin- 
able ; and she closes these various exhi- 
bitions with a loud smack of her lips, 
which, for want of greater propriety of 
expression, we call spitting. But, though 
all cats spit, no cat ever produced such a 
sound as she does. In point of ^ize, she 
is likely to be a kitten always, being ex- 

282 



The Grocer's Cat 

tremely small for her age ; but time, that 
spoils all things^ will, I suppose, make 
her also a cat. You will see her, I hope, 
before that melancholy period shall ar- 
rive ; for no wisdom that she may gain 
by experience and reflection hereafter 
will compensate for the loss of her pres- 
ent hilarity. She is dressed in a tortoise- 
shell suit, and I know that you will de- 
light in her." 

Had Cowper been permitted to live 
more with kittens, and less with evangel- 
ical clergymen, his hours of gayety might 
have outnumbered his hours of gloom. 
Cats have been known to retain in ex- 
treme old age the " hilarity " which the sad 
poet prized. Nature has thoughtfully pro- 
vided them with one permanent play thin g; 
and Mr. Frederick Locker vouches for a 
light-hearted old Tom who, at the close 
of a long and illrspent life, actually squan- 
dered his last breath in the pursuit of his 
own elusive tail. But there are few of us 
who w'ould care to see the monumental 

283 



Americans and Others 

calm of our fireside sphinx degenerate 
into senile sportiveness. Better far the 
measured slowness of her pace, the su- 
perb immobility of her repose. To watch 
an ordinary cat move imperceptibly and 
with a rhythmic waving of her tail 
through a doorway (while we are pa- 
tiendy holding open the door), is like 
looking at a procession. With just such 
deliberate dignity, in just such solemn 
state, the priests of Ra filed between the 
endless rows of pillars into the simlit 
temple court. 

The cat is a freebooter. She draws no 
nice distinctions between a mouse in the 
wainscot, and a canary swinging in its 
gilded cage. Her traducers, indeed, have 
been wont to intimate that her preference 
is for the forbidden quarry ; but this is 
one of many libellous accusations. The 
cat, though she has little sympathy with 
our vapid sentiment, can be taught that 
a canary is a privileged nuisance, im- 
mune from molestation. The bird's shrill 

284 



The Grocer's Cat 

notes jar her sensitive nerves. She abhors 
noise, and a canary's pipe is the most 
piercing and persistent of noises, wel- 
come to that large majority of mankind 
which prefers sound of any kind to si- 
lence. Moreover, a cage presents just 
the degree of hindrance to tempt a cat's 
agility. That Puss habitually refrains 
from ridding the household of canaries 
is proof of her innate reasonableness, of 
her readiness to submit her finer judg- 
ment and more delicate instincts to the 
common caprices of humanity. 

As for wild birds, the robins and wrens 
and thrushes which are predestined prey, 
there is only one way to save them, the 
way which Archibald Douglas took to 
save the honour of Scotland, — " bell the 
cat." A good-sized sleigh-bell, if she be 
strong enough to bear it, a bunch of 
little bells, if she be small and slight, — 
and the pleasures of the chase are over. 
One little bell is of no avail, for she learns 
to move with such infinite precaution 

285 



Americans and Others 

that it does not ring until she springs, 
and then it rings too late. There is an 
element of cruelty in depriving the cat 
of sport, but from the bird's point of 
view the scheme works to perfection. Of 
course rats and mice are as safe as birds 
from the claws of a belled cat, but, if we 
are really humane, we will not regret 
their immunity. 

The boasted benevolence of man is, 
however, a purely superficial emotion. 
What am I to think of a friend who 
anathematizes the family cat for devour- 
ing a nest of young robins, and then 
tells me exultingly that the same cat has 
killed twelve moles in a fortnight. To a 
pitiful heart, the life of a litde mole is as 
sacred as the life of a little robin. To an 
artistic eye, the mole in his velvet coat 
is handsomer than the robin, which is at 
best a bouncing, bourgeois sort of bird, 
a true suburbanite, with all the defects of 
his class. But my friend has no mercy 
on the mole because he destroys her gar- 

286 



The Grocer's Cat 

den, — her garden which she despoils 
every morning, gathering its fairest blos- 
soms to droop and wither in her crowded 
rooms. To wax compassionate over a 
bird, and remain hard as flint to a beast, 
is possible only to humanity. The cat, 
following her predatory instincts, is at 
once more logical and less ruthless, be- 
cause the question of property does not 
distort her vision. She has none of the 
vices of civilization. 

** Cats I scorn, who, sleek and fat, 
Shiver at a Norway rat. 
Rough and hardy, bold and free, ' 
Be the cat that 's made for me ; 
He whose nervous paw can take 
My lady's lapdog by the neck. 
With furious hiss attack the hen. 
And snatch a chicken from the pen.*' 

So sang Dr. Erasmus Darwin's intre- 
pid pussy (a better poet than her master) 
to the cat of Miss Anna Seward, surely 
the last lady in all England to have 
encouraged such lawlessness on the 
part of a — presumably — domestic ani- 
mal. 

287 



Americans and Others 

For the cat's domesticity is at best only 
a presumption. It is one of life's ironical 
adjustments that the creature who fits so 
harmoniously into the family group 
should be alien to its influences, and in- 
dependent of its cramping conditions. 
She seems made for the fireside she 
adorns, and where she has played her 
part for centuries. Lamb, delightedly re- 
cording his "observations on cats," sees 
only their homely qualities. " Put *em on 
a rug before the fire, they wink their eyes 
up, and listen to the kettle, and then purr, 
which is ihetr mnsicJ* The hymns which 
Shelley loved were sung by the roaring 
wind, the hissing kettle, and the kittens 
purring by his hearth. Heine's cat, curled 
close to the glowing embers, purred a 
soft accompaniment to the rhythms puls- 
ing in his brain ; but he at least, being a 
German, was not deceived by this spe- 
cious show of impeccability. He knew that 
when the night called, his cat obeyed the 
summons, abandoning the warm fire for 

288 



The Grocer's Cat 

the hard-frozen snow, and the innocent 
companionship of a poet for the dancing 
of witches on the hill-tops. 

The same grace of understanding — 
more common in the sixteenth than in 
the nineteenth century — made the fa- 
mous Milanese physician, Jerome Car- 
dan, abandon his students at the Uni- 
versity of Pavia, in obedience to the 
decision of his cat. " In the year 1552," 
he writes with becoming gravity, "having 
left in the house a littie cat of placid and 
domestic habits, she jumped upon my 
table, and tore at my public lectures ; yet 
my Book of Fate she touched not, though 
it was the more exposed to her attacks. 
I gave up my chair, nor returned to it 
for eight years." Oh, wise physician, to 
discern so clearly that " placid and do- 
mestic habits " were but a cloak for mys- 
teries too deep to fathom, for warnings 
too pregnant to be disregarded. 

The vanity of man revolts from the 
serene indifference of the cat. He is for- 

289 



Americans and Others 

ever lauding the dog, not only for its 
fidelity, which is a beautiful thing, but 
for its attitude of humility and abasement 
A distinguished American prelate has 
written some verses on his dog, in which 
he assumes that, to the animal's eyes, he 
is as God, — a being whose word is law, 
and from whose sovereign hand flow all 
life's coundess benefactions. Another 
complacent enthusiast describes his dog 
as sitting motionless in his presence, " at 
once tranquil and attentive, as a saint 
should be in the presence of God. He is 
happy with the happiness which we 
perhaps shall never know, since it 
springs from the smile and the approval 
of a life incomparably higher than his 
own." 

Of course, if we are going to wallow 
in idolatry like this, we do well to choose 
the dog, and not the cat, to play the 
worshipper's part I am not without a 
suspicion that the dog is far from feeling 
the rapture and the reverence which we 

290 



The Grocer's Cat 

so delightedly ascribe to him. What is 
there about any one of us to awaken such 
sentiments in the breast of an intelligent 
animal ? We have taught him our vices, 
and he fools us to the top of our bent. The 
cat, however, is equally free from illusions 
and from hypocrisy. If we aspire to a 
petty omnipotence, she, for one, will pay 
no homage at our shrine. Therefore has 
her latest and greatest defamer, Maeter- 
linck, branded her as ungrateful and 
perfidious. The cat of " The Blue Bird *' 
fawns and flatters, which is something 
no real cat was ever known to do. When 
and where did M. Maeterlinck encounter 
an obsequious cat ? That the wise little 
beast should resent Tyltyl's intrusion into 
the ancient realms of night, is conceivable, 
and that, unlike the dog, she should see 
nothing godlike in a masterful human 
boy, is hardly a matter for regret ; but the 
most subtle of dramatists should better 
understand the most subtle of animals, and 
forbear to rank her as man's enemy be- 

291 



Americans and Others 

cause she will not be man's dupe. Rather 
let us turn back and learn our lesson 
from Montaigne, serenely playing with 
his cat as friend to friend, for thus, and 
thus only, shall we enjoy the sweets of 
her companionship. If we want an ani- 
mal to prance on its hind legs, and, with 
the over-faithful Tylo, cry out, " little god, 
littie god," at every blundering step we 
take ; if we are so constituted that we 
feel the need of being worshipped by 
something or somebody, we must feed 
our vanity as best we can with the soci- 
ety of dogs and men. The grocer's cat, 
enthroned on the grocer's starch-box, is 
no fitting friend for us. 

As a matter of fact, all cats and kit- 
tens, whether royal Persians or of the 
lowliest estate, resent patronage, jocose- 
ness (which they rightly hold to be in 
bad taste), and demonstrative affection, 
— those lavish embraces which lack del- 
icacy and reserve. This last prejudice 
they carry sometimes to the verge of 

292 



The Grocer's Cat 

unkindness, eluding the caresses of their 
friends, and wounding the spirits of those 
who love them best. The little eight- 
year-old English girl who composed the 
following lines, when smarting from un- 
requited affection, had learned pretty 
much all there is to know concerning 
the capricious nature of cats : — 

** Oh, Selima shuns my kisses I 
Oh, Selima hates her missus I 
I never did meet 
With a cat so sweet, 
Or a cat so cruel as this is." 

In such an instance I am disposed to 
think that Selima's coldness was ill- 
judged. No discriminating pussy would 
have shunned the kisses of such an en- 
lightened little girl. But I confess to the 
pleasure with which I have watched other 
Selimas extricate themselves from well- 
meant but vulgar familiarities. I once 
saw a small black-and-white kitten play- 
ing with a judge, who, not unnaturally, 
conceived that he was playing with the 

293 



Americans and Others 

kitten. For a while all went well. The 
kitten pranced and paddled, fixing her 
gleaming eyes upon the great man's 
smirking cowitenance, and pursued his 
knotted handkerchief so swifdy that she 
tumbled head over heels, giddy with her 
own rapid evolutions. Then the judge, 
being but human, and ignorant of the 
wide gap which lies between a cat's 
standard of good taste and the lenient 
standard of the court-room, ventured 
upon one of those doubtful pleasantries 
which a few pussies permit to privileged 
friends, but which none of the race ever 
endure from strangers. He lifted the 
kitten by the tail until only her f orepaws 
touched the rug, which she clutched des- 
perately, uttering a loud protesting mew. 
She looked so droll in her helplessness 
and wrath that several members of the 
household (her own household, which 
should have known better) laughed out- 
right, — a shameful thing to do. 

Here was a social crisis. A little cat of 

294 



The Grocer's Cat 

manifestly humble origin, with only an 
innate sense of propriety to oppose to a 
coarse-minded magistrate, and a circle 
of mocking friends. The judge, imper- 
turbably obtuse, dropped the kitten on 
the rug, and prepared to resume their 
former friendly relations. The kitten did 
not run away, she did not even walk 
away ; that would have been an admis- 
sion of defeat. She sat down very slowly, 
as if first searching for a particular spot 
in the intricate pattern of the rug, turned 
her back upon her former playmate, faced 
her false friends, and tucked her out- 
raged tail carefully out of sight. Her 
aspect was that of a cat alone in a desert 
land, brooding over the mystery of her 
nine lives. In vain the handkerchief was 
trailed seductively past her litde nose, in 
vain her contrite family spoke words of 
sweetness and repentance. She appeared 
as aloof from her surroundings as if she 
had been wafted to Arabia ; and presentiy 
began to wash her face conscientiously 

295 



Americans and Others 

and methodically, with the air of one who 
finds solitude better than the compan- 
ionship of fools. Only when the judge 
had put his silly handkerchief into his 
pocket, and had strolled into the library 
under the pretence of hunting for a book 
which he had never left there, did the 
kitten close her eyes, lower her obdurate 
littie head, and purr herself tranquilly to 
sleep. 

A few years afterwards I was permitted 
to witness another silent combat, an- 
other signal victory. This time the cat 
was, I grieve to say, a member of a 
troupe of performing animals, exhibited 
at the Folies-Berg^re in Paris. Her fel- 
low actors, poodles and monkeys, played 
their parts with relish and a sense of 
fun. The cat, a thing apart, condescend ed 
to leap twice through a hoop, and to 
balance herself very prettily on a large 
rubber ball. She then retired to the top 
of a ladder, made a deft and modest 
toilet, and composed herself for slumber. 

296 



The Grocer's Cat 

Twice the trainer spoke to her persuas- 
ively, but she paid no heed, and evinced 
no further interest in him nor in his en- 
tertainment. Her time for condescension 
was past. 

The next day I commented on the 
cat's behaviour to some friends who had 
also been to the Folies-Berg^re on dif- 
ferent nights. " But," said the first friend, 
" the evening I went, that cat did wonder- 
ful things ; came down the ladder on her 
ball, played the fiddle, and stood on her 
head." 

" Really," said the second friend. 
" Well, the night /went, she did nothing 
at all except cuff one of the monkeys 
that annoyed her. She just sat on the 
ladder, and watched the performance. 
I presumed she was there by way of 
decoration." 

All honour to the cat, who, when her 
little body is enslaved, can still preserve 
the freedom of her soul. The dogs and 
the monkeys obeyed their master ; but 

297 



Americans and Others 

the cat, like Montaigne's happier pussy 
long ago, had " her time to begin or to 
refuse/' and showman and audience 
waited upon her wilL 



THE END 



CAMBRIDGE . MASSACHUSETTS 
U . 8 . A 



CAMBRIDGE . MASSACHUSETTS 
U . 8 . A 



I